Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in Lords amendments 7, 21, 35, 132 to 141, 181, 189, 192, 198, 243, 244, 253, 265, 288, 290, 291, 319, 320 and 366. If the House agrees to any of these amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.
Secretary of State’s duty to promote comprehensive health service
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
The aim of this Bill is to secure a national health service that achieves results that are among the best in the world. Through it, the Government reaffirm their commitment to the values and principles of the NHS: a comprehensive service, available to all, free at the point of use and based on need, not ability to pay. However, we have always been prepared to listen and make changes to improve the Bill, and we have continued to do so in another place. The Lords amendments in this group fall within five main areas.
First, we recognised that concerns had been expressed about the Secretary of State’s accountability for the health service. Although it was never our intention in any way to undermine that responsibility, we have worked with Members of another place and the House of Lords Constitution Committee to agree Lords amendments 2 to 5, 17, 18, 24, 39, 40, 74, 246, 287 and 292. Those amendments put beyond doubt ministerial accountability to Parliament for the health service. In addition, they amend the autonomy duties on the Secretary of State and the NHS Commissioning Board, to make it explicit that the interests of the health service must always take priority. They also amend the intervention powers of the Secretary of State and the board, to clarify that they can intervene if they think a body is significantly failing to exercise its functions consistently with the interests of the health service. Finally, a new provision will make it explicit that the Secretary of State must have regard to the NHS constitution in exercising his functions in relation to the health service.
Although clinical commissioning groups will have autonomy in their individual decisions, Lords amendment 9 clarifies that CCGs must commission services consistently with the discharge by the Secretary of State and the board of their duty to promote a comprehensive health service, and with the objectives and requirements in the board’s mandate.
The Government also tabled amendments in response to the recommendations of the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, all of which we have accepted. Amendments 15 and 16 ensure that the requirements set out in the mandate, and any revisions to those requirements, must now be given effect by regulations.
Commissioning will be led by GPs, who know patients best. However, with that responsibility must come accountability. Therefore, further to the amendments made in the House requiring CCGs to have governing bodies, the other place has strengthened requirements in relation to CCGs’ management of conflicts of interest. We recognised how important it is to ensure the highest standards of probity in CCGs and accepted amendments 31, 300, 301 and 302, which were tabled by the noble Baroness Barker, and which require CCGs to make arrangements to ensure that members and employees of CCGs, members of the governing body, and members of their committees and sub-committees, declare their interests in publicly accessible registers.
The amendments also require CCGs to make arrangements for managing conflicts of interest and potential conflicts of interest in such a way as to ensure that they do not, and do not appear to, affect the integrity of the board’s decision-making processes. The board must issue statutory guidance on conflicts of interest, to which CCGs must have regard.
Taken together, those amendments provide certainty that there will be clear and transparent lines of accountability in the reformed NHS. However, I cannot support Opposition amendment (a) to Lords amendment 31. The Bill is clear that CCGs must manage conflicts of interest in a way that secures maximum transparency and probity. In most cases, that would mean that a conflicted individual withdraws from the decision-making process, but that might not always be possible, for instance when a CCG is commissioning for local community-based alternatives to hospital services, and determines that the most effective and appropriate way to secure them is to get them from all local GP providers within its geographic area. In that event, it would not be possible for every GP to withdraw from the decision-making process. We cannot, therefore, agree to a blanket ban.
Will the Minister clarify something in view of what he has just said about the conflict that all members of the board and the CCG will have with regard to decisions on the provision of new services? Does he share my fear that the structure of CCGs results in bodies that will continue to be conflicted? Does that continuing conflict not undermine that important structure within the health service?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but I am afraid I do not share that view. I hope that what I shall go on to say will help to give him additional reassurance on that.
There will be additional safeguards in the Bill to ensure that those processes are transparent, including the regulations that Monitor will enforce on procurement practices and its accompanying guidance. In addition, the board must publish guidance for CCGs on their duties in relation to the management of conflicts of interest. Of course, the CCGs' commissioning intentions will have been set out in its commissioning plan, which is subject to consultation with both the public and the health and wellbeing boards.
The second area in which the other place has strengthened the Bill relates to the duties placed on commissioners to ensure a patient-focused NHS. It has always been the Government’s intention to put in place reforms that support the simple principle, “No decision about me without me.” To achieve that, commissioners will for the first time have a duty in relation to patient involvement in decisions. The House strengthened those duties following the listening exercise, and they were further improved by amendments 19, 32 and 33 in the other place, to make it explicit that the duty means promoting the involvement of patients in decisions relating to their own care or treatment.
Another core principle of the White Paper was the need to eliminate discrimination and reduce inequalities in care. The Bill will for the first time in the history of the NHS place specific duties on the Secretary of State and commissioners to have regard to the need to reduce health inequalities.
To reinforce that further, the other place agreed amendments 22, 23, 36, 37, 38 and 60. These ensure that the Secretary of State, the board and CCGs will be better held to account for the exercise of these duties through their annual reports, the board’s business plan and, in the case of CCGs, their commissioning plans and annual performance assessment by the board. However, improvements in quality, outcomes, and reduced inequalities will not happen unless we better integrate services for patients. That is why we placed duties on commissioners, again for the first time, to promote integration in new sections 13M and 14Y, and made clear, following the listening exercise, that competition will not take priority over integration.
I met GPs and consultants in Tavistock in west Devon the other day. One of the great concerns that consultants have, particularly in the field of paediatrics, is the integration of children’s services. A great deal of work has gone into that. In dealing with these amendments, what assurance can my right hon. Friend give that the integration of children’s services will be particularly emphasised in these changes?
I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured by two points. First, the Bill contains far greater duties and responsibilities for integration over the whole provision of care within the NHS, and that will obviously include children’s services. Secondly and more precisely on the narrow issue that he raised, the children’s health outcomes strategy, published some time ago, will ensure that commissioners provide services to improve integration and that there is greater working together between the NHS, public health bodies and commissioners in securing an improved pathway of care and greater integration.
Lords amendment 320 ensures that the NHS continues to provide funds to local government for investment in community services at the interface between health and social care.
Thirdly, amendments in the other place have placed a greater emphasis on the duties of the Secretary of State and commissioners with regard to system-wide issues, such as education, training and research. Amendment 7 ensures that the Secretary of State will remain responsible for securing an effective system of education and training. Amendments 21, 26, 35 and 42 will place duties on the board and CCGs to have regard to the need to promote education and training, and the Government supported the noble Lord Patel’s amendment to ensure that providers of health services were required to participate in the planning, commissioning and delivery of education and training.
The Government have also listened further to concerns that the strength of the research duties on the Secretary of State, the board and CCGs did not properly reflect the importance of the NHS as a world leader in supporting research. Amendments 6, 20 and 34 have strengthened these to a more direct duty to promote research.
Fourthly, concerns were expressed in the other place about the treatment of charities, other voluntary sector organisations and social enterprises that provide or want to provide NHS services. We are committed to a fair playing field for all providers of NHS services, regardless of their size or organisational form. We see voluntary organisations and social enterprises as key to this vision. For example, they can play a key role in understanding the needs of local communities and delivering tailored services.
Amendment 8 commits the Secretary of State to undertake a thorough and impartial statutory review of the whole of the fair playing field for NHS-funded services. I can confirm that it will cover all types and sizes of provider, including charities, social enterprises, mutuals and smaller providers. It will consider the full range of issues that can act as barriers for providers, including access to and cost of capital, access to appropriate insurance and indemnity cover, taxation and access to the NHS pension fund. The Secretary of State will be required to keep consideration of these issues under review. As my noble Friend Earl Howe set out in another place, during preparation of the report there will be full engagement with all provider types, commissioners and other interested stakeholders to ensure their concerns are looked at.
Finally, I turn to the amendments relating to mental health services. I would like to thank my noble Friend Lord Mackay for his work in developing amendment 1, which inserts the words “physical and mental” into clause 1 in order to promote “parity of esteem” between physical and mental health services. In response to the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ concerns, I would like to offer the reassurance that the definition of “illness” in section 275 of the National Health Service Act 2006 would continue to apply to section 1, meaning, for example, that learning disabilities, mental disorders and physical disabilities would continue to be covered by the comprehensive health service.
Although our view is that the most important work in achieving genuine parity of esteem will be non-legislative—for example, through our recent mental health strategy, “No Health without Mental Health”—we recognise the symbolic significance of including these words in clause 1. Mental health is a priority for this Government, so I commit to considering further the role that the mandate, the NHS and public health outcomes frameworks can play in driving improvements in mental health services. Similarly, we decided not to oppose amendment 54 by the noble Lord Patel of Bradford relating to mental health aftercare services provided under section 117 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and tabled a number of consequential technical amendments.
I am grateful for the scrutiny that the Bill has received in another place. There is no doubt that it has been strengthened and improved as a result. It will help to ensure that the Secretary of State will remain accountable overall for the health service and provide a robust framework for holding commissioners to account. I urge hon. Friends and hon. Members to agree to the Lords amendments in this group, but to reject Opposition amendment (a) to Lords amendment 31.
There have been 1,000 Government amendments to this disastrous Health and Social Care Bill—374 in the other place alone—and it is unacceptable that elected Members in this House have been given so little time to debate amendments that will affect patients and the public in every constituency in England.
It is essential that we reach the second group of amendments, on parts 3 and 4 of the Bill, which deal with Monitor, foundation trusts and the Government’s plans to raise to 49% the private patient cap in foundation trusts, but I want to start with the Lords amendments to the Secretary of State’s duty to ensure a comprehensive service in the NHS. I will remind hon. Members where this all began.
On 10 February last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) challenged the Secretary of State, in his evidence to the Commons Bill Committee, over why he was removing the Secretary of State’s responsibility to provide a comprehensive service in the NHS. He said:
“I have not... It is in the original language. It is reproduced the same way.”––[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 10 February 2011; c. 166, Q402 and 404.]
On 15 February, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) challenged the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) about the removal of the Secretary of State’s duty to provide comprehensive NHS services. Again, this was categorically denied. The Minister said:
“Clause 1 retains the overarching…duty which dates from the original 1946 Act”.––[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 15 February 2011; c. 178.]
He also said that any amendments to the clause were “unnecessary”. Today the Government are being forced to eat their words.
For the record, it was the determination of Labour Members in the other place, not Liberal Democrat Members, that forced the Government to place the clauses relating to the Secretary of State’ duties on promoting a comprehensive service and on autonomy within the remit of the Lords Constitution Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness Jay of Paddington. The result of the Committee’s deliberations are the amendments before us today. The amendments do not deliver exactly the same duty as the National Health Service Act 2006, but they are a significant improvement. Pressed on this issue by Labour Members in both Houses and at every stage of the Bill, the Government have been forced to concede.
A similar thing has happened on education and training, which is the subject of Lords amendments 7, 21, 26, 35 and 42.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, will she pay tribute to our Labour colleagues in the Lords, who have worked across the House, but who, by dint of the way the House of Lords works, cannot always claim credit for the results they have achieved by working in that way?
I absolutely concur with my right hon. Friend. For the record in this House, I pay tribute to our colleagues in the Lords for their achievements and their efforts in securing some of the protections for the NHS that we are debating today.
There was absolutely no mention of education and training in the original Bill, despite the fact that the Bill abolishes strategic health authorities, which play a vital role in education and training—for example, by hosting deaneries. Labour Members raised this issue in the first Commons Committee stage. We also tabled an amendment on Report to place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure a comprehensive education and training system for all professions in the NHS, which would have included continuing professional development. Labour Members in the other place then tabled amendments to address the issue. I should note, again for the record, that it was Labour and Cross-Bench Lords, not Liberal Democrat Lords, who argued for those important amendments and who forced the Government to introduce substantive new clauses placing duties in respect of education and training on the Secretary of State, the NHS Commissioning Board and clinical commissioning groups.
However, the critical issue that I want to focus on is how to deal with conflicts of interest in clinical commissioning groups. Clinical commissioning groups will be responsible for spending around £65 billion of taxpayers’ money. They will be made up of a majority of GPs—professionals who run businesses that are largely, and in many cases wholly, dependent on the NHS for their income. Clinical commissioning groups will commission NHS services, some of which will be provided by GPs who are members of the group, or—as is increasingly envisaged by the Government—by companies in which GP members may have a financial interest. The public must have confidence that clinical commissioning groups are making decisions based on patients’ and taxpayers’ best interests, not the financial interests of GPs.
I will finish this point.
However, under the Bill, clinical commissioning groups—the newest bodies in the NHS, and with the least experience—will have the weakest corporate governance of any public body in the country. They are required to have only two lay members. However, there has been no reassurance in this House or another place that those members will be independently appointed. The Government have not even given a reassurance that the chairs of clinical commissioning groups will be lay members. The Government have also failed, at every faltering stage of this Bill, to ensure robust protections against actual or perceived conflicts of interest in clinical commissioning groups.
No, I am going to proceed.
Let me remind hon. Members that the Bill started out without any requirement for GP consortia—as they were then called—even to have a board to govern their work, let alone any measures to deal with potential conflicts of interest. On 3 March last year, in the first Commons Committee stage, Labour Members called for effective corporate governance and robust measures to deal with conflicts of interests in clinical commissioning groups.
I am going to finish this point.
The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), said that all and any changes to those provisions were “unnecessary”, and denied that there was any lack of effective governance. I would remind Liberal Democrat Members that the Minister argued that putting a board in place or dealing with conflicts of interest would mean that clinical commissioning groups would fail to be “liberated”. Those criticisms were among the many issues that were supposed to be dealt with when the Government embarked on their now infamous “pause” in the Bill’s progress last spring, but they were not. The Government were therefore forced to return to the issue in the other place. However, the amendments before us are still weak, incomplete and ineffective.
The Government say that clinical commissioning groups will have to include in their constitutions how they intend to manage conflicts of interest. However, I am afraid the Government are deluded if they think that the national NHS Commissioning Board will be able adequately to scrutinise whether hundreds of clinical commissioning groups are properly implementing the measures in thousands of contracts, particularly when the board has already taken on so many other huge responsibilities for managing the Government’s new system. Giving Monitor powers to scrutinise clinical commissioning groups is inadequate for the same reason. Saying that Monitor can deem a clinical commissioning group’s contract to be ineffective, if it thinks that conflicts of interest have not been dealt with, will in effect mean closing the stable door once the horse has bolted. Indeed, there could be huge problems on the ground, as a provider may have already started delivering services to NHS patients by the time Monitor takes its decision.
Labour’s Front-Bench team in the other place tabled a comprehensive amendment to deal with conflicts of interest in clinical commissioning groups. It would have ensured a code of conduct for how clinical commissioning groups register, manage and report on conflicts of interests among its members and employees, and imposed a duty on CCG members to abide by the code. The amendment would have ensured that no member of a clinical commissioning group could take part in discussion or decisions concerning any provider of services with which that person had a registrable interest, and allowed the Secretary of State to appoint an adjudicator to investigate complaints about any breaches of the code, with a range of financial and other sanctions available, including the ability to suspend or remove a person from the clinical commissioning group. However, the Government rejected that comprehensive amendment, saying that such sanctions were unnecessary.
The Government have agreed to Lords amendment 31, which at least says that there must be a register of interests for a group, along with its governing body, sub-committee and employees, and that the register must be kept up to date, with information updated within 28 days. That change is welcome, but it does not go anywhere near far enough in ensuring that conflicts of interest are robustly dealt with. That is why our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 31 would ensure that members of a clinical commissioning group would not be able to take part in discussions or decisions about services in which they had declared a registered interest, which is the same format as in local government.
Although we welcome Lords amendment 31, which was tabled by my noble Friend Baroness Barker in another place, the hon. Lady’s amendment (a) proposes to go a stage further. I personally welcome that, but did she notice that the Minister, in justifying the Government’s position that it would not practically be applicable, gave the example of a CCG commissioning from all its membership? Does that not fundamentally undermine the argument that clinical commissioning groups cannot be conflicted per se?
I am simply arguing in amendment (a) that the same robust mechanisms that exist in local government should apply in this case. The hon. Gentleman will have to have a conversation with his own Ministers about what they have said in response.
The potential for conflicts of interest under the Bill is so great, and the amount of public money being spent by clinical commissioning groups so substantial, that the Government should have put in place far tougher provisions to deal with conflicts of interest. The Deputy Prime Minister has failed to guarantee the integrity of clinical commissioning groups, as he claimed in his joint letter with the noble Baroness Williams to Liberal Democrat Members. The integrity of clinical commissioning groups cannot be guaranteed by having only two lay members who will not even be independently appointed, nor can it be guaranteed through guidance for GPs, which the General Medical Council is currently developing. Indeed, I would argue that the GMC’s role should be to ensure professional integrity in the treatment of individual patients, not with regard to organisational misconduct, which would be a complete change in its current role. Nor can the integrity of clinical commissioning groups be guaranteed by national bodies such as the NHS Commissioning Board and Monitor, which will be too distant, too remote and too busy dealing with the fallout from other aspects of the Government’s Bill to be able effectively to address the potential conflicts of interest that clinical commissioning groups will face every day.
This issue might not have received as much public or media attention as other aspects of the Bill, but it will become significant in future, as patients and taxpayers struggle to determine whether their best interests—not the financial interests of GPs—are at the heart of the NHS. Examples of that have already come to light. In October last year, the Haxby practice in York wrote to its patients to say that a range of minor treatments would no longer be available on the NHS, but that they could be carried out privately at a number of clinics, including one owned by the practice itself. Those treatments included the removal of skin tags, at a cost of £56.30, and the treatment of benign tumours at a charge of £243.20.
Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, has rightly said that
“the direction of travel in NHS policy, particularly combined with the financial situation, does increase the risk of conflicts of interest for GPs which is one of the reasons the BMA is so concerned about the Health and Social Care Bill.”
Similarly, the NHS Confederation and the Royal College of General Practitioners have felt forced to issue guidance to GPs on how they should manage conflicts of interest, because they believe that the arrangements will become more complex under the Government’s plans. The Lords amendments before us are not robust enough to deal with this. It is a real concern for GPs that they will be unable to deal with conflicts of interest. That is what they are saying, and they need to be protected. The Government should support our amendment, because that would enable that to happen.
I congratulate my noble Friends Baroness Jolly, Baroness Barker, Lord Marks, Baroness Williams, Baroness Tyler and Baroness Northover on putting in a tremendous amount of work during the Bill’s various stages to negotiate and table amendments to advance the arguments that my Liberal Democrat Friends and I have expressed concern about. I have already put on record the fact that, although some of those amendments represent important strides towards making the Bill less bad, the changes still do not satisfy me to the extent that I feel that the Bill should be entitled to go forward from this, the elected House, as a piece of legislation. Unfortunately, that is not an argument that I am going to win, but I wanted to put the point on record.
Lords amendment 31 represents an important step forward, but it will merely provide a sticking plaster in what will be a fundamentally challenging scenario. The clinical commissioning groups represent a crumbling pillar in the edifice of the legislation. The big weakness at the centre of the CCGs is the fact that their members will, collectively and individually, be conflicted in almost all circumstances, and they will be unable to escape from that.
The Minister emphasised that point further when he told the House why he could not accept the amendment tabled by those on the Labour Front Bench. He told us that members of a CCG should not take part in certain discussions and decisions, even though they had declared an interest, because the groups would, on occasion, be commissioning for all their members. In those circumstances, a CCG would be incapable of making a decision because none of its board members or general members could be brought in to help because they would all be conflicted. That demonstrates a fundamental weakness in the legislation. My noble Friend Baroness Barker tabled an excellently drafted amendment to deal with that problem, but she was working within very limited parameters. The amendment would simply provide a sticking plaster for a crumbling edifice that will be unable to hold up this policy. I have a fundamental concern about the way in which the legislation will work in this regard.
The solution would be to go back to the coalition agreement. I have advanced that argument before. Although no such amendment is before us today, I suggest that we revert to the idea of a much more wide-ranging commissioning body, perhaps based on the infrastructure of the old—or, in some cases, existing—primary care trusts. In so doing, we could get rid of the Government-placed people who come through the Appointments Commission, and instead graft in clinical representatives. The Government are absolutely right to ensure that clinicians play a central role in providing good clinical advice on the decision making and the awarding of contracts. Such a structure would also ensure that the voices of the community, the local authority and patients’ representatives would be heard. Unfortunately, we do not have such a pillar in place, and we are now trying to achieve iterations that, I am sorry to say, will not go far enough in addressing the fact that clinical commissioning groups will be fundamentally, endemically conflicted, and there will be no escape from that.
I want to make a few points on Lords amendment 2, which deals with the Secretary of State’s duties. This has been the subject of one of the most fundamental debates during the course of the Bill. The Lords still have grave concerns about whether the Secretary of State does indeed have a duty to
“provide or secure the effective provision”
of health services in England. In addition, concern remains over exactly what the Secretary of State will remain accountable to the House for.
In Committee, the Lords agreed not to amend clause 1, or clause 4, in regard to the duty to promote a comprehensive health service and the Health Secretary's accountability to Parliament. Instead, they preferred to engage in negotiations with the Minister with a view to bringing back proposals before the Report stage. The Lords Constitution Committee also proposed amendments on ministerial accountability for the NHS. The Committee’s concern was that, even after the months of debate here and in the other place and the amendments that had already been tabled, the Bill still posed an undue risk to maintaining adequate ministerial and legal accountability for the NHS. Given the number of amendments that had been tabled, it was a remarkable achievement still to have such uncertainty.
The wording of amendments remained an issue, and on 2 February 2012, the Government tabled 137 amendments to the Bill covering a range of areas, including changes to clarify the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the health service. There were two key amendments: one sought to ensure that the Secretary of State
“retains ministerial responsibility to Parliament for the provision of the health service in England”.
The other sought to place the duty to promote a comprehensive health service and to exercise functions to secure the provision of services above that of promoting autonomy.
The hon. Member used the term “comprehensive health service”. Does he feel that the changes to the NHS will deliver a comprehensive health service, or does he feel that what we will see is some people being able to access services while others are not? Is that not the sort of health care service that he would be against and to which the people of this country would object?
I am grateful for that intervention and I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that this amendment, which deals with the Secretary of State’s powers, and, indeed, the whole thrust of the Bill, are likely to lead to a fragmented service, when what we all want to see is co-operation and integration. I am concerned about the direction of travel in that respect.
The point about autonomy is relevant, because Lords amendment 2 reiterates that
“The Secretary of State retains ministerial responsibility to Parliament for the provision of”
health services. Lords amendments 4 and 17 would further amend clauses 4 and 20 in order to downgrade the duty to promote autonomy even more, through the idea that the Secretary of State must only
“have regard to the desirability of securing”
autonomy instead. When it comes to ministerial accountability for the Secretary of State, we have a yearly mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board, which will remove the Secretary of State—and therefore Parliament—from being involved in or interfering in the running of the NHS. In that case, I ask the Minister: what would be the point of Health questions? As private health care interests take over the provision of health services, they will not be subjected to freedom of information requests or other forms of accountability to which NHS providers are subjected.
I will in a moment, but I want to pose a few questions first. The Secretary of State clearly cannot answer for private companies that are exempt from FOI requests. He cannot answer for GP commissioning groups, which are essentially independent contractors and private bodies. Surely, it is clear that the Secretary of State is handing over a big chunk of the NHS budget to private GP commissioning groups, cutting himself and Parliament out of the loop. I therefore believe that it is a fantasy to say that the Secretary of State will remain accountable.
There is almost—no, there is—an air of déjà vu to this part of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, as there always is. We discussed this in Committee, and I am a bit frustrated that he cannot quite get it. The fact is that at the moment there is virtually no transparency and no real accountability as to what a Secretary of State does with regard to the provision of health services. The fact is that the mandate will be published; it can be debated in this House either on a motion from the Government or from the Opposition; there will still be Question Time at which hon. Members will be able to ask questions; there will still be an opportunity for Adjournment debates, urgent questions and statements. There will be accountability.
Well, as Aneurin Bevan said, “You give your version of the truth, and I will give mine.” In my assessment, yes, there will certainly be a mandate, but this House’s power to scrutinise and hold Ministers to account will be severely diminished under the new arrangements. Writing down that the Secretary of State has the duty
“to exercise functions to secure the provision of services”
is thus rather perverse—one might even say ridiculous—when the rest of the Bill hands over those duties to other bodies, often private bodies outside the NHS such as the clinical commissioning groups. Indeed, the National Commissioning Board—the world’s biggest quango—will also secure provision through clinical commissioning groups, which will not be done through the Secretary of State. [Interruption.] I think the Minister is being extremely disrespectful, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the way he is gesticulating when I am trying to make my points.
In effect, the Secretary of State’s only duty seems to be to pass over the money or the resource and write one letter a year—this mandate—to the National Commissioning Board.
On the issue of the duty to promote a comprehensive health service and secure the provision of services as opposed to any duty to promote autonomy, this surely remains a conundrum, as they are virtually mutually exclusive. How the Secretary of State thought that those two competing principles could sit side by side or that he could balance the two is beyond me. This is the problem with the Bill as a whole. No matter how much tweaking is done to clauses 2, 4 or 20 by these amendments, we cannot escape this dilemma. That brings me back to my key point that this Bill’s driving ideological purpose remains to commercialise and privatise each and every service in the NHS.
Finally, let me return to the definition of autonomy—[Interruption.]—for the information of Conservative Members, who are shouting across the Chamber. According to the dictionary, autonomy means
“the condition of being autonomous; self-government or the right of self-government; independence”.
What we are talking about here is being autonomous or independent of the Secretary of State. My contention is that only central planning can deliver a comprehensive service. Otherwise, we will have postcode lotteries—identified in the risk registers we have discussed, such as the one from the Faculty of Public Health—and unprofitable services being cut back. Once the private sector is too big to control, what then?
I shall make some brief remarks, but I first want to welcome the renewed focus on integrated care, as outlined by the Minister this afternoon. He clearly outlined the importance of mental health services and clarified that the primary duty in commissioning will be to ensure that there is integrated care.
We all know the importance of dealing with the biggest challenge facing the NHS, which is how we are going to look after our ageing population. How are we going to improve the care for the increasing numbers of people living longer, which is a good thing but poses a big financial challenge for the NHS as well as a big human challenge in how to look after them? How are we going to address the challenge of looking after people living at home with diabetes, heart disease and dementia?
This Bill goes a long way towards meeting those challenges, and I believe that the renewed focus on integration is key and vital. It is only by different services and different parts of the NHS working together effectively—with primary care working effectively with hospitals, as well as with social services—that we are going to meet the big financial and human challenge of improving the care of older people. That is why I am reassured—I hope that my Liberal Democrat colleagues will also be reassured—by this renewed focus on integration, which is at the heart of the debate and at the heart of the way in which we will make our NHS meet future challenges.
Let me deal briefly with the Opposition amendment 31, which deals with what they believe is an inherent conflict between people involved in delivering care—health care providers or GPs—and others when it comes to involvement in the clinical commissioning groups. The amendment ignores the fact that, at present, good commissioning involves a partnership with primary care trusts that were set up by Labour when they were in government. GPs who are engaged in the provision of health care in local communities are involved in PCTs and involved in the Government arrangements for PCTs, working in partnership with local managers. So, if it was good enough to have that inherent partnership in the current structures set up by the previous Government, I do not see why, when we all believe that clinical leadership is a good thing in the NHS, a conflict of interest should suddenly be created under the Bill. That does not make sense; it is not intellectually coherent. For that reason, we must oppose the amendment.
We have before us more reassuring amendments to promote integrated care, to focus it on more joined-up thinking between the primary and secondary care sector, and to ensure that we do not have to deal with patients with mental health problems only when they get to the point of crisis. The focus on integrated care will mean that they are better supported in their communities. Opposition amendment 13 is, as I have explained, inconsistent with how they managed the NHS when they were in government.
The fundamental difference is that under the Bill only two lay people will be appointed as members of clinical commissioning groups, and no independence will be involved. Under the old system, lay members of primary care trusts were independently appointed. The degree of independence that provided checks and balances has gone.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that clarification. The Government are clearly committed to the value that lay members bring to commissioning groups, and, as my right hon. Friend has said, two is the minimum. I hope the hon. Lady will accept that it is very disingenuous to suggest that lay members who are appointed to boards of hospitals or primary care trusts, or indeed to commissioning boards, show a lack of genuine care for patients in the way in which they commission services.
Given that the Opposition have tabled a bad amendment, and given the renewed focus on a commitment to integrated care for the benefit of older patients and people with mental health problems, I believe that we should support the Government this evening.
Order. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that he is referring to the wrong group of amendments. The group that we are discussing is headed “Secretary of State, NHS Commissioning Board and CCGs”. We will be discussing the amendment to which he referred later, and I presume that for that reason he will now resume his seat.
I will speak very briefly. Let me begin by pointing out to the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), who said that we did not have enough time to consider all the amendments, that if we had not spent an hour and a half discussing the risk register yet again, we would have had more time to discuss the amendments.
I congratulate the Government on accepting Lords amendment 1, which relates to parity of esteem between physical and mental health. As the Minister said, genuine parity cannot be laid down in legislation, and the mental health framework will be very important to the achievement of it. However, research findings published by the Centre for Mental Health, which I mentioned to the Minister during health questions recently, show the link between physical and mental health conditions. As I am sure we all know from our constituency casework, when someone presents with a physical health condition, it may be clear that there is an underlying mental health condition which has been either undiagnosed or untreated, and which is therefore hampering the person’s physical health recovery.
The Minister spoke of the “symbolic significance” of including a reference to mental health. He is right, but I think that on a day when we have seen Her Majesty the Queen address Parliament, we should recognise that there is sometimes a place for symbolism, particularly when it comes to something that is as cherished on the Government Benches as the NHS. I know that the Opposition claim ownership of the NHS, but in fact it is cherished by all of us, and by our constituents.
I also thank the Government for accepting Lords amendments 19, 32 and 33, which concern the duty of commissioners and commissioning groups to provide patient-focused care—the “No decision about me without me” duty. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) rightly spoke of the importance of mental health care in that regard. I have certainly found, when listening to patients in the mental health system, that they want their doctors, consultants and everyone else in the system to ensure that they are involved in their own care. I am glad that the clinical commissioning groups will be given guidance on that, but I do not expect the very best CCGs and GPs to need to follow it. They are likely to know that treatment is more likely to succeed if patients are involved in it.
Having spent 10 weeks on the Public Bill Committee, and having been present during all the debates on the Floor of the House, I am especially pleased to be able to welcome the amendments.
Let me begin by paying tribute to my colleagues in the House of Lords, who have improved the Bill significantly.
I want to raise two issues relating to conflicts of interest. Subsection (1) of the new section proposed in the amendment tabled by Baroness Barker states:
“Each clinical commissioning group must maintain one or more registers of the interests of—
(a) the members of the group,
(b) the members of its governing body,
(c) the members of its committees or sub-committees or of committees or sub-committees of its governing body, and
(d) its employees.”
I looked in vain for a paragraph (e) specifying “parties with which it is contracted for commissioning support”. I think that that is a live issue. There will be commissioning support organisations—some of which will be private institutions, and some of which will be allied with organisations that provide the clinical services that are commissioned—and there may be occasions when those advising the commissioners make recommendations that benefit some parties with which they are contracted. That model, involving the influence of the executive, will be fairly familiar to those who have been members of local authorities. Councillors, like doctors, are often very busy. They rely heavily on expert advice provided by officers, and they generally follow it.
The issue was raised in the House of Lords—I believe that it was raised by Lady Barker—but, when I read the report of that debate, I could not help feeling that it had been glossed over. I should welcome any enlightenment from the Minister on how such a quandary can be dealt with. Clearly it must be dealt with, because otherwise it will create general anxiety about how commissioning will proceed.
The second issue is a bigger one. I think that it is of particular interest to us all, because it affects the general position of the commissioning consortia themselves. There is a view that PCTs are more or less in the same legal boat as GP or clinical commissioning consortia would be. I disagree with what the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) said about that. The PCT, as a unit, is not built around general practices, which, as we have said several times in this place, are small businesses. It is possible to view a clinical commissioning consortium as an association of undertakings, which creates serious issues as to how it is able to use public money. If it used public money to benefit itself, that would obviously become a big issue immediately.
Order. This is not just a conversation between the Government Front Bench and its supporters and the hon. Gentleman. If Members want to intervene to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, they should do so, rather than shouting at him while he is speaking.
The Minister could undoubtedly answer my query and deal with my anxiety. A significant regulatory issue is involved in the provision of regulations that will work for commissioners in the Department of Health, and he knows that that is the case. It is not a question of what we intend to do; it is a question of what those in the European legal system will make of the function and the nature of what we have set up. If they interpret it as an association of undertakings, that is exactly how they will treat it, regardless of what the Bill says or of what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box. This is a matter of concern that has been raised by people who are more knowledgeable about such matters than I am, and it genuinely needs to be addressed.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 10 and 13 to 30 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 7 and 21.
Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 3(1)—(Andy Burnham).
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Lords amendment 31 agreed to.
Lords amendments 32 to 42 and 54 to 60 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendment 35.
After Clause 59
Secretary of State’s guidance on duty under section 59(9)
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 63.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Part 3 is a key element of the Bill. As the Government have made clear, commissioners will decide whether, when and how to use competition to deliver services for patients. Where they decide to do so, part 3 will ensure that competition is regulated effectively and in the patient’s best interests. Under the Bill, Monitor will, in future, regulate all providers of NHS services, so that all patients are protected, irrespective of who supplies their treatment and care.
In the earlier debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (John Pugh) asked about the applicability of competition law to the function of commissioning. I draw his attention to European case law, which makes it clear that commissioning is not subject to competition law. It is the function that matters when it comes to determining whether this is applicable—
I am responding to my hon. Friend and, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I am going to carry on doing so.
In addition, the Office of Fair Trading has published guidance that is consistent with the view that the Department has expressed on this matter. I will write to my hon. Friend with the detailed case law, so that I can quote the case reference for him.
Claims have also been made that part 3 does something else. Specifically, it has been suggested that it introduces competition and competition law into the NHS, as if that were the case for the first time. Part 3 does not do that, nor does anything else in the Bill. The NHS will, as a result of the Bill, be better insulated against the inappropriate application of competition law, particularly as it develops more integrated services, which are now embedded throughout this legislation. Without Part 3, the NHS would continue to be exposed to price competition and the preferential treatment of private providers introduced by the previous Labour Government. Indeed, Labour’s 2006 procurement regulations assume that public authorities will be securing services from a market—that will not always be appropriate in the NHS—and so, under the existing regulations from the 2006 legislation, commissioners are placed at greater risk of legal challenge whenever they decide to secure services without competition.
I wish to seek a point of clarification on the Minister’s reference to what Earl Howe said about the Bill providing
“insulation against inappropriate application of competition law”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 March 2012; Vol. 735, c. 1689-90.]
Concerns were raised in the Minister’s own party about American-style private health care interests being able to use these mechanisms to provide health care services. Will he give an example of how this “insulation” would protect an NHS trust from being taken over by a north American private health care company?
That shows a fundamental flaw in the hon. Gentleman’s argument and in his understanding of what the Bill actually does. I commend to him the contribution made by Earl Howe, the Minister in the other place, on 6 March 2012, when he set out in great detail—this can be found in column 1689—all the aspects relevant to how this Bill protects the NHS, creating insulation for it against the application of competition law under the current framework, as provided by the 2006 legislation, which does not offer those protections. It certainly does not give commissioners the ability to exercise their discretion over whether, when and if to use competition. In those circumstances, the measures give for the first time, because of the sector-specific regulator, the ability to decide which services will be exempt from competition altogether—something that does not exist as a result of Labour’s legislation. That is one reason why so many hon. Members in this House are concerned about the impact of competition—because they are seeing the NHS being exposed to competition under the 2006 Act. This Bill will sort those defects out.
No, I am going to make some progress and then I will be more than happy to give way. [Interruption.] I am sure there will be more opportunities and I will give way in a moment.
On how Monitor exercises its powers, the Government have supported amendments made in the House of Lords, which were tabled by my noble Friend Baroness Williams, providing that the Secretary of State can give Monitor guidance to help ensure it exercises its functions in a manner consistent with the Secretary of State’s duty to promote a comprehensive health service. The amendments also help to ensure that the Secretary of State can discharge effectively his responsibility for the health service in England and to ensure that Monitor carries out its functions to that end. I therefore commend the amendments to the House. Both this House and the Lords have stressed the need for Monitor to use its powers to support integrated services and co-operation between providers. The Government therefore tabled amendments in the other place to provide express powers for Monitor to set and enforce licence conditions that would enable integration and co-operation between providers.
On the detail of Monitor’s specific regulatory powers, Monitor would have powers to intervene proactively to support commissioners in ensuring continued access to NHS services if a provider became unsustainable. Amendments tabled by the Labour peer Lord Warner, which we agreed in the other place, provide that Monitor will have to identify and publish evidence where it identifies risk that it considers arises from unsustainable service configurations. Those amendments would require commissioners to act on that information where necessary. Hence, they make clear the expectation that commissioners will address problems proactively and ensure that patients continue to have sustainable access to the services they need. These are sensible provisions that had support from all parts of the House of Lords and I hope that this House will also agree to them.
I want to say a bit more about the powers and responsibilities of Monitor, which relate to further amendments made in the other place. The extent of the various matters that Monitor would have to take into account was the subject of considerable debate in this House and the other place. I want to be absolutely clear about where we are regarding the overarching duty that Monitor has to take into account. Monitor will have a single, unequivocal duty—to protect and promote the interests of patients by promoting provision of NHS services that is economic, efficient and effective and that maintains or improves the quality of services. Beyond that overarching duty there is no hierarchy. No preference is given to competition or integration because integration is clearly a responsibility that sits with commissioners and Monitor’s role is to support it.
Peers also raised concerns about proposals for the Competition Commission to undertake seven-yearly reviews of competition in the provision of NHS services. The Government were sympathetic to the arguments and were concerned that it might be taken to suggest that competition was being given a higher status than the interests of patients. In order to avoid that, we accepted an amendment tabled by my noble Friend Lord Clement-Jones that removed the provision in the Bill for Competition Commission reviews. We also supported other amendments tabled by my noble Friend Lord Clement-Jones requiring the Office of Fair Trading to seek advice from Monitor whenever it considers mergers or potential mergers involving foundation trusts. The amendments will help to ensure that benefits to patients are evaluated on an informed basis by a sector-specific regulator giving its expert advice to the OFT in the discharge of its responsibilities and as a paramount consideration.
Many hon. Members will probably have received correspondence from the Nuffield Trust saying that
“much of the behaviour of providers will in practice be shaped by detailed guidance and the work on pricing conducted by both Monitor and the NHS Commissioning Board. The two organisations have a major task ahead of them to ensure there is the necessary information, data exchange, contracting and payment tools to support patient choice, integrated care, efficiency and quality.”
How would the Minister respond to the Nuffield Trust on that question?
What I heard the hon. Gentleman set out was a rehearsal of the interrelationship that exists between the NHS Commissioning Board and Monitor, particularly in the area of setting NHS tariffs and prices. For the first time, as a result of this legislation, there will be greater transparency and requirements about consultation in the design of those tariffs. At the moment, that process is obscured within the bowels of the Department of Health without accountability or public scrutiny. For the first time, this Bill puts that on a footing that ensures that transparency. As a result, it will produce much better tariff design for the future.
On Monitor’s role as the regulator of foundation trusts, it is important to be clear about this important part of the legislation. Foundation trusts will remain the principal providers of NHS services. The Government do not expect that to change. Monitor must therefore be able to continue operating a compliance regime transparently to assess and manage the risks, intervening proactively to address problems where necessary. The Bill is designed to reflect this and for Monitor to protect patients’ interests by regulating foundation trusts so that they continue to be able to provide NHS services in line with their principal purpose. Where Monitor identifies significant risk to a foundation trust’s continued ability to provide NHS services, the Bill provides Monitor with powers to intervene proactively to ensure that the risk is addressed. The Government agreed amendments in the House of Lords to clarify that further. In particular, the amendments clarify that Monitor’s powers to direct foundation trusts to do, or not to do, things to maintain essential standards of governance, or to ensure their continued ability to provide NHS services, will not be transitional powers. We accept that that previously was not as clear as it needed to be and we have made it clear.
We think that the Bill has been improved as a result of the amendments that were made in the House of Lords in that regard. Under clause 94 in the latest version of the Bill, Monitor’s enduring powers will include the power to set and enforce requirements specifically on foundation trusts to ensure that they are well governed. Monitor does that now and those requirements will need to be differentiated for foundation trusts to reflect their unique role and legal status as public benefit corporations financed by the taxpayer with a principal purpose defined in statute as being
“to provide goods and services for the purposes”
of the NHS. Monitor will also have enduring powers to set and enforce requirements on foundation trusts to ensure that they remain financially viable and to protect NHS assets. These measures deal with one of the concerns that has often been rehearsed about the privatisation of the NHS. The Bill does not provide that opportunity, but it provides for the protection of NHS assets. Those are necessary conditions of a foundation trust’s continuing ability to provide NHS services; they are not transitional issues.
I would appreciate the Minister’s clarification about reports that have been made available as a result of freedom of information requests indicating that senior officials of Monitor have been meeting on a regular basis with representatives of the private health care consultancy, McKinsey. Is the Minister aware of the nature of those discussions and do they have any relevance to the assurances that have been given at the Dispatch Box that there is no conspiracy to privatise the health service?
Absolutely not; the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers, which had a substantial exposé in The Mail on Sunday, really do not bear as close an examination as he would like of them. We know that the relationship that existed in terms of contracting McKinsey to provide services was one that the previous Government engaged in far more freely than the current Administration. The amounts that this Government have contracted and the nature of the relationships that this Government have are far smaller.
I have asked the Secretary of State about McKinsey and Co. in this Chamber and through a written question, but neither he nor anybody in the Department seems able to confirm whether it has access to the risk register. It seems very strange to me that the Department is not able to answer the question of an hon. Member about what access that organisation has to those documents. It is a very strange set-up.
My hon. Friend is dealing with matters of great concern outside this place, and I am clear that all these amendments are a move in the right direction. Will he put it on the record that as a result of the Bill, first, it will not be possible in future for any hospital to move, as Hinchingbrooke did, from the public sector to the private sector, and, secondly, that the proportion of private sector business cannot be increased up to the 49% that has been mentioned and will be increased only if the hospital decides, according to the amendments, to increase it by the small percentage that the amendments now allow?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his questions. Let me start with the issue of Hinchingbrooke, which is an important one. It is worth remembering that the vast majority of the process that led to that franchise arrangement was completed under the Labour Government, not by the current Administration, and was part of the arrangements put in place by the Labour Health Act 2006 and Health and Social Care Act 2008. The Bill makes sure that in future there can be no scope for sweetheart deals to incentivise new entrants into the NHS, it ensures that there cannot be price competition of the sort that was allowed under the 2006 Act, and it ensures a protection for commissioners to decide when and if it is appropriate to use competition. That is not a protection that they enjoy under the 2006 or the 2008 Acts.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s question. He should read Hansard later.
I was asked, finally, whether there is a cap of 49%. Let us go back to the deliberations in another place before Christmas, when the issue first came up. Our noble Friends were concerned to make sure that we put it beyond doubt that foundation trusts were protected from the full force of competition law and that those organisations would continue to have as their principal purpose their service of NHS patients. That is why we have further amendments, which I shall come to shortly, about how a 5% increase would trigger further consultations and votes by the governors.
No. I shall make some progress, if the hon. Lady does not mind.
In addition, Monitor could also, in exceptional circumstances, use the enduring powers that I was describing to direct a foundation trust to remove its directors or governors. In other words, a direct intervention power is preserved by the amendments and changes that we have made.
The Government’s ambition is that eventually foundation trusts should have more responsibility for their governance than they do under the current arrangements. This will depend, in particular, on strengthening the role of foundation trust governors in holding their boards to account. We have listened to the concerns about the pace of change. Hence, we have amended the Bill so that Monitor will also have, on a transitional basis, express powers to remove, suspend or replace directors or governors of a foundation trust directly, without the prospect of an appeal to the first-tier tribunal. We would expect Monitor to use these powers to address failure of governance, which puts the trust at risk of not meeting its licence conditions, such as the requirements that I have already described.
No, because the overarching duty is that the service remains free at the point of use. Also, there are protections—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks a question, but when I try to give him an answer, he shouts and screams at me. That does not help the debate. What I wanted to say was that when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, there are clear requirements to protect NHS assets from a transfer out of the NHS and out of the state sector. The powers that I was describing would be retained as long as Parliament considered necessary, and they could not be removed before 2016 at the earliest and would then be subject to criteria that Monitor determines, with the Secretary of State’s approval.
On the amendments to part 4, which we have started to debate, we have listened carefully to the concerns expressed to us that, following the removal of the private patient income cap, foundation trusts could engage in more private work, to the detriment of their NHS patients. The Government have therefore made amendments to require every foundation trust to explain in its annual report how its non-NHS income has impacted on NHS services. The Bill will now also require governors, who represent NHS staff and the public, to be satisfied that any proposal by a foundation trust to earn non-NHS income must not significantly interfere with the trust’s principal legal purpose to treat NHS patients. Where a foundation trust proposes to increase by 5% or more the proportion of total income that it derives from non-NHS income—this is not just patient activity; it could be research and other things as well—the Bill now requires this to be approved by a majority of governors in a vote.
Opposition Members have tabled two amendments on this matter which appear, on first reading at least, to duplicate each other. Both provide for Monitor to have to approve any action by a foundation trust that would result in the trust’s increasing its income from non-NHS activity as a proportion of its total income by more than 5 percentage points. In the first amendment, this would be in addition to the foundation trust’s governors having already voted to approve the increase; in the second, Monitor would take over the role completely and locally elected governors seem to be excluded from the process.
As a result, the public would not get direct representation in their locality in decisions that would affect their local foundation trust’s ability to provide innovative NHS services that respond to their needs. Their views would be completely disregarded in favour of Monitor exercising this function. Contrary to Labour’s own manifesto, these amendments would fetter foundation trusts’ freedom to make decisions about raising income from non-NHS sources which they could use to provide innovative, locally responsive services for their patients and the public they serve. Governors of foundation trusts are in a far better position than Monitor to know what their local communities want and need. They should be allowed to approve their directors’ decisions in the light of their local knowledge—local knowledge that the Labour party when it was in government and introduced foundation trusts thought was a very good thing. Now that it is in opposition, Labour thinks it is not a good thing.
We expect Monitor to oversee foundation trusts’ proposals to increase their income from non-NHS activity. As my noble Friend the Minister said in the debate in the Lords on Report, if a foundation trust is increasing its non-NHS income by more than 5% of its total income in a year, we will expect Monitor in every instance to review whether there is any cause to intervene in order to safeguard the ongoing provision of NHS services. That is a proportionate and reasonable response and a proportionate role for Monitor to assume.
I do not know whether I am alone in this—I do not think so—but the notion of foundation trust governors having to approve an increase in private patient income does not feel like much of a safeguard, especially as the governors are inclined to balance the books. It just means that the proportion of private patient income will slowly grow to 49%, rather than jump to it straight away. While we are thinking about this aspect of clause 163, I understand that the Department of Health still has an explicit target in the operating framework to increase the proportion of non-public sector provision purchased with NHS funding. There are so many pressures and drivers that the denial that it is privatisation and the influx of competition—[Interruption.] It is privatisation that will slowly grow to 49%.
Absolute nonsense. That is part of the rhetoric and fantasy that we have heard throughout the Bill’s passage. Let me deal directly with it by reference to examples of current practice. The Royal Marsden and the Royal Brompton and Harefield all earn very high levels of private income but are consistently rated highly as providers of NHS services. They use those resources to reinvest in NHS services.
Will the Minister confirm that most of the foundation trusts that are interested in raising and removing the cap want to invest the money that they would generate from private income to improve services for NHS patients? [Interruption.]
Let me at least do my hon. Friend the courtesy of answering his point before taking another intervention.
It is absolutely right to make the point about the use of those resources. Indeed, that has been one of the benefits of the system, as we have seen in the performance that some of the trusts that have had historically high caps have delivered in NHS services. However, it is worth noting that it is not just in relation to foundation trusts that there have been concerns about caps, because NHS trusts have never had caps, and it has been entirely possible for NHS trusts to increase their income without any of the constraints or controls that foundation trusts have found themselves under. The Labour party, in crafting its manifesto, seemed to have understood that, but it has now decided to run away from that in order to paint a picture about privatisation that is not part of this legislation.
We have also clarified a foundation trust’s principal legal purpose to show that it must continue to earn the majority of its income from NHS activity and that that is its overriding priority. Revenue for treating NHS patients could absolutely not be used to cross-subsidise private care, and we would expect Monitor’s licensing regime to prohibit that categorically. The amendments provide important safeguards, so I urge the House to support them.
Finally, this group contains a number of minor and technical amendments, including those implementing recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that provide for greater consultation and clarify various matters. I urge hon. Members to support the Lords amendments in this group and to reject the Opposition’s amendments to Lords amendment 148.
It is important to begin by setting out the background to many of the amendments in this group. Despite the pause that the Government ordered for the Bill, they failed to allay fears about the creation of a market based on a 1980s utility privatisation, with Monitor acting as an economic regulator—a parallel drawn last November not by me, but by the King’s Fund in a report it published. That, more than anything else, has been behind the huge professional disquiet about the Bill that we have seen over recent weeks and months, with respected professional organisations coming out one after another to express their concern about the damage that will be done to the health service if hospital is pitted against hospital, doctor against doctor. That is where we start.
The Minister began his remarks by talking about the myths relating to part 3 of the Bill and objecting to some of the interpretation that I have just given. I do not know who he had in mind when talking about those myths, but it might have been the noble Baroness Williams. I will quote from an article she wrote in The Guardian on Monday 13 February. It is important because it explains the genesis of one of the amendments that the House is considering tonight. She acknowledged that there were:
“fears among the public and within the medical profession that clinical commissioning groups might become dependent on advice from powerful private health companies, and that the imposition of UK and European competition laws, addressed to markets and not to social goals, might destroy the public service principles of the NHS. In plain terms, this is often described as a fear of privatisation. These are issues that must be addressed.”
When the Minister talked disparagingly about myths, did he have the noble Baroness in mind? I think that he must have done, because in the same article she went on to suggest that the answer to the concerns and fears that she had correctly identified was to drop the whole of part 3. She wrote:
“What that would mean for the bill would be dropping the chapter on competition, and retaining Monitor as the regulator of prices and of the foundation trusts.”
I am not privy to the internal machinations of the Liberal Democrats, but I think that there must have been some wrangling and soul searching in the two weeks following the publication of that article, because by 27 February a letter had emerged that was co-signed by the noble Baroness and no less a figure than her party leader, the Deputy Prime Minister. The call to drop part 3 of the Bill, which had been made so eloquently in The Guardian two weeks earlier, had in fact turned into something very different. The letter stated that they needed to go further to amend the Bill in order
“to rule out beyond doubt any threat of a US-style market”.
If what the Minister has said at the Dispatch Box this evening is true and all these fears are myths, why did his party leader and the noble Baroness send that letter? Indeed, why were there even concerns about the threat of a US-style market, which his party leader acknowledged on 27 February? They do not sound like myths to me; it sounds like they were very real threats indeed.
What I want to address this evening is the fact that when the package of amendments that were meant to put the Clegg-Williams package into the Bill finally emerged, they fell considerably short of what was promised in the letter. Indeed, we are dealing with some of those tonight. I will focus on Lords amendment 148 in particular, which deals with the private patient income cap. When the Minister spoke a moment ago, I did not find him reassuring at all. When he spoke about foundation trusts in the future he said that they would of course remain the principal providers of NHS services, but I do not find that at all reassuring. The exchange he had with the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was very revealing. The right hon. Gentleman made a mistake that the noble Baroness made when she took on Polly Toynbee on the same issue. The right hon. Gentleman, like the noble Baroness, does not seem to understand the effect of the amendments he is agreeing to. He began by asking, “Wasn’t it the case that the 49% figure was now completely ruled out and wasn’t relevant?” No is the answer to that. All that the Minister has offered him is that if the increase is more than 5%, it then has to be passed by a vote. I find it incredible that a Member of his years and standing in this House has just revealed that he does not understand the amendments that have been signed up to in order to deliver the package set out in the Clegg-Williams letter. That is a terrifying state of affairs; I do not know what the Members in his party who voted against that might make of it.
I absolutely understand the amendment, as I am sure does the right hon. Gentleman. Given that 1%, 2% or 3% of most hospitals’ activity is private at the moment, as he well knows, it seems to me that it is a much better guarantee that we have a rule that says that no hospital can increase that by more than 5% of what it is now unless there is a decision made locally. That gives much more security than anything else previously in the Bill, and that is why it seems to me to be a very worthwhile amendment.
Let me answer that directly. The Financial Times has analysed the latest data on actual NHS income earned through the treatment of private patients and demonstrated that in the last year not a single hospital trust would have been caught by this so-called safeguarding amendment. It used the example of Great Ormond Street, which increased its income from private patients by 19% from 2009-10 to 2010-11, to £25 million. In percentage points, that increase was less than 1%. Given the small numbers in the cap which the right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned, he is agreeing to trusts being able to increase their income from private patients by multiples of hundreds of percentage points without any reference to their boards of trustees. Frankly, he has not addressed the point that he has failed to understand that the Bill still gives trusts the permission to increase it to 49%. They could go to the trustees and increase it to 49%. He might be reassured by that, but I most certainly am not.
I draw the House’s attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does the shadow Secretary—[Interruption.] Does the shadow Secretary of State—[Interruption.] Does the shadow Secretary of State object to NHS foundation trusts raising money through private income—therefore and thereby spending it on NHS patients?
No, I do not, is the answer—[Interruption.] Well, what has that proved? We had trusts earning income, but the foundation trust legislation set a cap: it allowed the principle but tightly controlled it for the vast majority of hospitals. That was its purpose. This Bill removes those tight controls. This Bill, supported all the way on that point by Liberal Democrats, now allows hospitals completely to change character over time. In time they can turn to US-style hospitals and devote half their facilities to the treatment of private patients—
Non-foundation trusts were managed by the Department, and the Department’s policy, during our time in government, was to have a tight cap—[Interruption]. There was a tight cap on the income that trusts could earn, so the very fact of foundation trusts’ creation gave rise to the question of whether there should be a cap. The Minister is effectively abolishing that cap with his Bill.
I have answered the right hon. Gentleman’s question. It was an entirely different situation altogether.
On the suggestion that we are setting our face against reform, we have not said that, and I as Secretary of State initiated a review of the private patient cap, because the issue came up before the election. I was prepared to allow a modest relaxation of the cap if it could be demonstrated to benefit private patients, but I was talking about single percentage points: 1% or 2% becoming 2% or 3%. I was not in any way conceiving the possibility that 49% of a trust’s income might be made from the treatment of private patients—that half their theatre time, beds and car parking spaces could be turned over to the treatment of private patients.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will concede that those hospital trusts with a private patient cap that is set at perhaps 35%, such as the Royal Marsden hospital, do not necessarily do that much private work. The decision is at the hospital’s discretion, so the idea that raising the cap to 49% will mean that hospital trusts will per se undertake 49% private activity has been proven to be incorrect, on the facts as they stand at the moment in hospital trusts, because those trusts, the doctors and boards work for the benefit of their patients.
That is the ideological difference between us. The hon. Gentleman says that the decision should be at the hospital’s discretion, but the Bill essentially sets everybody on their own. Hospitals are being told, “You’re on your own. There’s none of the support from the centre any more, no bail-outs, as the White Paper said. That’s it, you’re out there, you’re competing in a market, and you’ve got to stand on your own two feet.” I differ from that opinion because I want systems regulation and a role for the centre in deciding whether a hospital should greatly increase its treatment of private patients.
This is not just a question of each individual hospital thinking about what it is going to do, because hospitals will have pressure on their bottom lines, as a colleague said earlier. They will be operating in a difficult financial context, and it might have a different effect on their individual interests. It might make sense for hospitals, individually, to increase the number of private patients, but it might not make sense for the NHS patients who live in that area, and that is the entire point: the Government are trading systems regulation for the individual decisions of local organisations, because that fits when we move to a competitive market in which every individual organisation is a competing business.
I am struggling to follow the coherence of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. On the one hand he says that it was all right for non-foundation trusts, under the previous Government, to increase massively the amount of private work that they did, as long as the Department agreed with it; on the other hand he argues that it is very important to control the amount by which foundation trusts raise the private patient cap. He cannot have it both ways, and his argument is not intellectually coherent. Is this not about doing things for the benefit of patients and leaving it up to local hospitals to decide?
The hon. Gentleman should make a speech if he wants to make interventions of that length. We had a cap to protect the interests of private patients; he is getting rid of the cap, and he is going to have to explain to patients in his constituency, if waiting lists start getting longer, why that is happening. It is as simple as that. We had systems regulation, he is removing that with the Bill and we are moving to a more unregulated market, which is not what we want to see.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether I might seek your advice in relation to a declaration of interest. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has made two interventions on the private patient cap and has made a declaration of interest. He is a director of Circle, a private health care company. Is it your ruling that every Member must make such a declaration if they speak during the course of this debate?
The amendment gives us no protection at all, and it gives us no protection from the NHS cross-subsidising private care. There is nothing in the Bill which says, “The whole costs of the provision of that care have to be reimbursed to the national health service”, as the Financial Times has again demonstrated, and that is why we object to what is happening. We are going back to the old days of the NHS, whereby patients are told, “You can go private or you can go to the back of the queue and wait longer.” That is the choice which we removed from the NHS during our 13 years in government, and we will not accept any return of it.
I do not think that I have any more support or encouragement for the private sector in the NHS than the right hon. Gentleman does. May I therefore get him to accept that what Lords amendment 148 does is to limit in relation to each hospital an increase to—
No, to 5% of its current figure—not 5% in total, but a 5% proportion. That is what the amendment says, and that gives Guy’s hospital, St Thomas’s hospital and King’s College hospital and patients the reassurance that I think they need. The right hon. Gentleman should read the amendment.
I am not going to debate that now. The right hon. Gentleman is going to have to defend himself on whether he has his facts right. I do not think that he has.
We need to put firmly on the record that there are real flaws in the Liberal Democrats’ proposal. They say that it is a safeguard to state, “The governors will decide and it is better done at a local level,” but the governors are going to be under pressure from the management of the hospital because of the pressure on the hospital’s finances. If they make a decision that is in the interests of that hospital, it does not mean that it is in the interests of everybody and of NHS patients.
The model that the right hon. Gentleman describes is one that he was only too happy to go through the Lobby and support during the introduction of foundation trusts in the first place. He has omitted to mention Monitor’s role in overseeing the situation through its powers of intervention to ensure the safeguarding of a comprehensive health service, and to mention the guidance that the Secretary of State will give Monitor in order to do just that.
I am afraid that I am not at all reassured by that, or in fact by anything the Minister says. The letter that we have from the Deputy Prime Minister spoke of insulating the NHS from European competition law, but I am still waiting to see the amendment that delivers that. As I understand it, one of the Minister’s noble Friends tabled an amendment and then withdrew it, because they did not have the courage to press it to a vote, and accepted a statement on the record instead. This is different from what the Minister keeps saying that we did in government, because he is envisaging a huge expansion of the role of any qualified provider and the putting out to tender of commissioning support units. He has overseen a situation in which three community services have been compulsorily tendered.
The truth is that the Clegg-Williams letter, with the amendments that followed, does not only fail to deliver but sells out the national health service, as does so much of what the Liberal Democrats have agreed to. Our amendments, particularly amendment (b), would provide a measure of systems regulation in the best interests of the NHS, and that is why we will seek to press amendment (b) to a vote.
I rise to speak in support of the Government, and of what the previous Government did for the NHS. When the shadow Secretary of State was Secretary of State for Health—the same was the case with many of his predecessors—there was a consistent policy whereby the private sector should be used where it could add value to patient care in the NHS. That was done very effectively by the previous Government to bring down waiting times for operations, but it was not effective when it was not done in an integrated way. Very often, it was done without regard to post-discharge planning for patients but, as we heard earlier, the renewed focus on integration should help to deal with those problems.
We have some of the very best hospitals not only in this country but in the world, including the Royal Marsden and Moorfields eye hospital, where a relatively high proportion of activity is carried out by the private sector. No one doubts those hospitals’ commitment to their NHS patients or that they still provide those patients with the very high standards of care of which health care systems in other countries are very envious. We are very proud of what those hospitals do, and the Government would like to give other hospitals the same opportunity and freedom to follow their example. The Government believe that it is absolutely appropriate that we should use the private sector where it can enhance value to NHS patients. That is absolutely consistent with the previous Government’s policies, for which many Labour Members campaigned at the last general election. This Government are also committed to those policies.
I understand and respect the sincerity of the principle that my hon. Friend is describing, but can he reassure me, particularly given his understanding of the NHS and health systems, that under these proposals it would not be possible for a foundation trust to drive some NHS patients towards the private arm of the activities that they undertake, particularly in the case of procedures that are exactly the same in the private and the public sector?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and he is right to raise it. That happened in the past when, under the previous Government, private sector providers were paid 11% more for the provision of services than NHS providers, which created an incentive for the private sector to be used ahead of NHS services. This Government are committed to ensuring that that does not happen. My hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Minister and Member for Cheltenham—[Interruption.] I mean Chelmsford; I apologise, particularly as I get the train through his constituency on the way home every Thursday night. They have clearly stated that the Bill is about making sure that we use the private sector when it adds value for money. The hospital that uses the private sector the most—the Royal Marsden—does not have a two-tier service for NHS patients and private patients. The involvement of the private sector at that hospital greatly enhances the work of the NHS and the quality of service and care available to its NHS patients because of the increased research that is performed, the high quality of care, and the high standard of clinicians who are attracted to work there. That works well for the private sector and for the NHS.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) that, where possible, we should be using NHS providers. The Royal Marsden, where there is a high potential cap on private sector involvement, does not use the full capacity of that cap, and there is less private sector activity than it could undertake. That is because the Royal Marsden says, in effect, “Yes, the private sector is good, but it is not only about maximising our cap and maximising our profits but taking into account the best interests of our local patients and striking a balance.” That works very well.
As I understand it, the majority of the private work at the Royal Marsden is in areas such as research and development that are not in any way similar to the services it provides to NHS patients. I asked my hon. Friend whether he agreed that where the private sector and public sector were providing the self-same services for NHS patients, there was a risk that patients might be driven from the NHS towards the private sector.
I hope I reassured my hon. Friend with my earlier answer. Yes, he is right that that has happened in the past. However, there is a presumption in the Bill—particularly for rural areas such as Cornwall and in Suffolk, which I represent—that the renewed focus on integrated care that we heard about earlier is the primary focus and purpose of commissioning, over and above the use of any willing provider or private sector providers. That has given me great reassurance regarding our ability to take on and deal with the big demographic challenges of looking after older people better.
I am reassured by what the Minister has said, and I urge Government Members to support the Government.
I rise to support the amendment and to speak against anything that will allow 49% of the capacity of our local hospitals to be used for private patients.
Along with other measures in the Bill, the Government have accepted various amendments that will result in lengthening waiting lists for NHS patients. The Government’s relaxation of NHS waiting times targets means that hospitals are free to devote more theatre time to private patients, and they will have a clear incentive to do so in order to maximise income, given the move towards full financial independence and a “no bail-outs” culture whereby hospitals in financial trouble are allowed to go bust with no help from the Government.
The Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 placed a cap on the level of income that a foundation trust could earn from private patients. It was based on the level of a foundation trust’s private income in 2003—the year when foundation trusts first came into being—which was typically about 2%. The Bill in effect sets trusts free to deploy as much as 49% of that capacity to generate income from private patients who can afford the fees to jump the queues, which ordinary hard-working people, and the most vulnerable in our society, cannot do. This is not what patients want, not what the professionals want, and not what the NHS needs.
The Government amendments must be changed to ensure that any increase in the proportion of patient income has the approval of Monitor. Allowing individual trusts to make the decision alone means that there is no strategic overview, which Monitor would offer, and so in theory it would be possible for all the trusts in a locality to make that increase to 49% if their individual boards approved it. I wonder what that would mean on Teesside. We have two major hospitals, so half the capacity for NHS patients could go. Labour’s amendment would set a tougher cap on private patient income. Without the amendment, the NHS will take a huge step towards privatisation and we will fail to put in safeguards to ensure that the needs of the general public are met. Rather than the NHS being free at the point of delivery, more and more people will be pushed towards insurance schemes, thereby putting money in the pockets of the insurance industry and denying the exceptionally important right to have free, high-quality health care when it is needed.
I am absolutely clear that I was not sent to this place to force through the privatisation of the NHS, to force people from the public sector into the private sector, or to undermine great hospitals such as Guy’s, St Thomas’s and King’s College or the other hospitals in my constituency and my borough. Like colleagues from all parts of the House, I know what a fantastic service the NHS provides, not as a matter of policy but from personal experience. It saved the life of my younger brother and looked after my mother in her last days in the most fantastic way that anybody could wish for. I am clear about the commitment of the NHS.
I am therefore clear that we have to look at what the Bill says and what it will do. I have had an exchange about that with the shadow Secretary of State for Health. This is a really important issue outside this place. Clause 161 sets out the following principle:
“The principal purpose of an NHS foundation trust is the provision of goods and services for the purposes of the health service in England.”
That was not thought to be enough, so colleagues in the other place said, “Let’s for the first time ever make it clear that private activity can never be more than a minority activity.” That is why the 49% figure appeared.
However, that is not still enough—[Interruption.] Let me deal with this point. That is why Lords amendment 148 is before us. It states that if any foundation trust hospital in England proposes to increase its private income by 5% or more from its current level, which is usually about 2% or 3% of its income, the governors have to agree to the proposal by a majority. There will not be any great vote by the governors of Guy’s and St Thomas’s, King’s College or any other hospital, with the public participation in the debate that there would be, suddenly to increase their private sector activity. That is not the real world, because that is not what the British public want. There are one or two cases—
In a second. There are one or two cases, such as the Royal Marsden, which have historically had a higher percentage of private sector activity. Those hospitals have justified doing so, because they are specialist hospitals that have got money in from outside. However, I do not want us to leave this debate letting the public believe that there will now be the opportunity for all the hospitals in England suddenly to move, without any control, towards undertaking huge amounts of private sector activity.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for setting out these issues again so clearly and for putting to rest the myths that are yet again being fanned by Opposition Members. I confirm that the Bill provides two further safeguards. First, Monitor will continue to have a direct oversight role in this regard. It will be able to intervene and use its licensing powers and other powers to deal with concerns if NHS services are put at risk by the decisions of a foundation trust. Secondly, there are the contractual relationships that commissioners have directly with these organisations.
I accept that. That is why the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) are not necessary. Monitor already has a control that it can exercise to ensure that what he calls strategic control or central control is retained, as well as local decision making.
I will end this point by saying that although, technically, there could be a vote of the governors of any hospital—in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency or mine—every year to increase private income by more than 5%, that is not the real world. In the real world, the people of this country love their national health service, NHS staff love their national health service, and the governors of the hospitals that I represent love their national health service. Those people are not suddenly going to change their attitude after 60 years of the NHS.
In the post-war Parliament, when the Labour party, supported by the Liberal party, put through the plans drawn up by Beveridge, the Liberal, for the NHS, it accepted from the beginning that there would be some private sector activity. From the beginning, GPs and some dental services were in the private sector, and they have remained there.
I am clear that the Bill does not mean that there will suddenly be a market, a route or a tramway for privatisation. Others say I am wrong—I know that there is a lot of concern—so I am clear that when the Bill becomes an Act, we need to sit down with the health professionals who still have concerns—[Hon. Members: “Too late.”] No, it is not too late if people understand what is really in the Bill, rather than what some people say is in the Bill. It is not too late if people look at the wording of the legislation, and do not just listen to the arguments about it.
I say to the right hon. Member for Leigh, whom I respect in many ways, that he has often distorted what has happened in the past and what will happen now. He has ignored the facts that Labour forced privatisation on the health service in many parts of England and that Labour paid more to the private sector to carry out activities for the NHS. I am here to support these provisions in the Bill because I want to end the incentives for the private sector and to end the enforced privatisation of the health service. I will ensure that there is no chance of any hospital in my part of the world voting significantly to increase private sector activity, because the NHS wants to remain in the public sector and deserves to be supported by us to do so.
I refuse to be misrepresented by Labour colleagues who accuse us of doing something that we are not doing. We have a public national health service, paid for through our taxes. Everybody has an entitlement to the best care in the country. I will not do anything that undermines that. I hope that the right hon. Member for Leigh will not and that Ministers will not. I agree that we have some work to do to reassure people outside this place. I hope that, from today, the right hon. Gentleman will join me in telling the truth about the Bill and not tell untruths.
Lords amendment 63 agreed to.
Lords amendments 64 to 147 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 132 to 141.
Goods and Services
Amendment (b) proposed to Lords amendment 148.—(Andy Burnham.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendments 148 to 167, 242, 246, 248, 252, 287, 292 to 326, 328 to 332, and 335 to 365 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 319 and 320.
Other services etc. provided as part of the health service
This group encompasses a number of Lords amendments relating to public health, public involvement, local government, the Health and Care Professions Council, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the NHS Information Centre.
We believe that the Bill has been improved as a result of the amendments made in the House of Lords. For example, the Government have directly addressed the concerns raised in this House and elsewhere about the status and security of directors of public health within local authorities. We have also introduced safeguards to ensure that local healthwatch organisations and HealthWatch England can operate effectively within the Care Quality Commission, and that the CQC can have better links with, and transparency to, local healthwatch organisations.
Throughout the Bill, we have emphasised the importance of public health. In particular, local directors of public health will have a leading role within their local authorities in ensuring that public health is a consideration across the full range of local government activity, not just its health responsibilities. For example, they will use their participation in health and wellbeing boards, alongside directors of adult social services, directors of children’s services and clinical commissioning groups, to find innovative solutions to local health needs.
To further strengthen the status of public health in local authorities, amendments tabled by my noble friend Earl Howe establish directors of public health as statutory chief officers of their local authorities. They also give the Secretary of State the power to issue guidance on the role of directors and other public health staff, to which local authorities must have regard. Along with the guarantee of chief officer status and statutory guidance, that is equivalent to the situation that currently applies to directors of children’s services and of adult social services.
Other Lords amendments will enable us to give directors of public health a key new role in considering applications for the licensing of premises for the sale of alcohol, and enable the national child measurement programme to continue once it is transferred to local authorities.
Beyond the provisions of the Bill, we have stated clearly that Public Health England will have a board with an independent, non-executive majority and an independent chair, to provide the chief executive and the Secretary of State with frank and expert challenge. Public Health England’s ability to undertake research and bid for external funding for health protection research in the same way as the Health Protection Agency is also provided for in the Bill as now drafted. Finally on public health, we have announced our intention, subject to consultation, to require the registration of non-medical public health specialists with the Health Professions Council.
We introduced safeguards in the other place to ensure that HealthWatch England could operate effectively within the CQC and have better links with, and transparency to, local healthwatch organisations. That will help to ensure that issues arising between them can be addressed, and local authorities and local healthwatch organisations will have to have regard to similar guidance. HealthWatch England will also exercise additional functions to assist local authorities with the arrangements that they make for local healthwatch. HealthWatch England may make recommendations of a general nature to local authorities about the making of those arrangements. When it is of the opinion that local healthwatch activities are not being properly carried out, it can draw that to the attention of the local authority.
The Lords amendments will ensure that regulations are able to, and in some cases must, make adequate and appropriate provision about HealthWatch England’s membership. That will include specifying that the majority of members must not be members of the CQC board, and setting out the procedures for selecting members or proposing persons for appointment as members. We listened to the concerns on that issue and have now undertaken a public consultation on the proposed regulations. The results are currently being carefully analysed.
A number of the amendments in this group apply to local healthwatch organisations. They will strengthen the statutory powers of those organisations, enabling them to become a powerful champion of patients’ interests locally. As a result of the Bill, they will have stronger and more wide-ranging powers than local involvement networks do under the current arrangements. The Government are ardent proponents of localism and of local authorities being able to take account of local needs and be accountable to their local population for the decisions that they make.
One thing that has got lost in all the noise about the Bill is the fact that there will be more opportunity for local authorities and local people in England to be engaged. Will my hon. Friend put on record how an ordinary constituent of his in Sutton, mine in Southwark or anywhere else—not a professional such as a GP or a nurse—will be able to get involved? I think there will be a much better system in future than there has been.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Hard-wired throughout the Bill are requirements on patient and public involvement in clinical commissioning groups and health and wellbeing boards. Local healthwatch will provide a vehicle for delivering much wider engagement. One criticism that has often been levelled at past attempts at public and patient engagement has been the absence of hard-to-reach groups, which are seldom heard from in our health system. As a result, their voices have not helped to shape commissioning decisions. We need to ensure that they do, so that CCGs commission effectively for their whole population. That is a key part of what the Bill provides for.
As the Bill makes its way on to the statute book, Members of all parties will need to look closely at the opportunities for far wider public involvement that will result from how it has been improved. We have listened closely to groups such as the Richmond group, which has been a powerful advocate on behalf of a wide range of patients’ groups. It has talked about the importance of involving patients far more in co-production and commissioning decisions. That is an essential component of how we intend the Bill to be given effect in the months to come.
In tabling our amendments in the House of Lords, we wanted to ensure that local authorities had greater flexibility in the organisational form that local healthwatch takes. Local authorities are best placed to make decisions about the right way to commission a local healthwatch service for their area, but they cannot decide not to have a local healthwatch organisation, and we would not allow them to do that. It is essential that the voice of patients and carers is heard loud and clear in the decision-making processes of our NHS and social care services.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for his last remark. I know that he will come on to Lords amendment 181, but I could not find anything in the debate in the House of Lords justifying the rationale behind the provisions relating to the establishment of local healthwatch organisations as statutory bodies corporate. I am sure that he is just about to provide that rationale.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the opportunity to do just that. First and foremost, I want to be absolutely clear that local authorities are under a statutory duty to ensure that local healthwatch arrangements are put in place. The Lords amendments do not change that one iota, and they do not in any way weaken the statutory functions conferred upon local healthwatch organisations. Nor do they enable local authorities in some way to limit, restrict or censor what local healthwatch organisations can do. Indeed, we tabled amendments to ensure there are better safeguards in relation to how local authorities carry out their role. The Secretary of State will be able to publish guidance relating to potential conflicts of interest between a local authority and its local healthwatch organisation, to which both sides must have regard. We have provided for HealthWatch England to make recommendations in that respect, but to be absolutely clear, local healthwatch has a statutory basis. All that has changed is that we want to enable local decisions about whether it is a social enterprise, a voluntary organisation or another format.
Will the Minister clarify that point and the issue raised earlier by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes)? One Lords amendment allows a local authority to commission a community interest company, charity or other form of social enterprise that meets the prescribed criteria to be the local healthwatch for its area, and allows local healthwatch to make arrangements with others to carry out its functions—it effectively allows local healthwatch to delegate its functions to a community interest company. How does that address the concerns raised by the right hon. Gentleman? How would an individual constituent have their interests represented through a local healthwatch if it is no longer a statutory body?
The point is that the body will discharge a number of statutory functions. The models that the hon. Gentleman describes—community interest companies and other forms of mutual or social enterprise—are exactly the sort of organisations that are likely to engage more effectively with community interests and bring in a wider range of them. That is why we want that flexibility in the organisational form, against a set of criteria to safeguard the interests of the public. The public can tailor those organisational forms to meet the needs of their local community. That corporate envelope does not guarantee anything; the legislation still provides a statutory basis.
One last time—I am grateful to the Minister. Will he put on the record what constituents all over England can do if, for example, they hear that their hospital might want to close a ward for the mentally ill, or close accident and emergency services, or if it realises that there is no day care for people with mental illness? What power do they have to stop or start something?
Despite the noises off, the fact is that there is considerable scope for that sort of public shaping.
Let me talk my right hon. Friend through some of those changes. We are establishing local health and wellbeing boards, which are made up of clinical commissioning groups, elected local authority members, the various directors to which I just referred, and, importantly, local healthwatch organisations. They have the statutory responsibility for identifying population need for their area and for then framing the strategy to meet those needs. The local commissioner must evidence that the strategies for delivering that—the local commissioning plans—reflect the commissioning strategy that has been produced by the health and wellbeing board. That is the first opportunity to intervene and to help shape the nature of services that are being commissioned for a local population. Indeed, we made amendments that make it clear that health and wellbeing boards must involve their population in that work.
The next stage when people can be involved is when the clinical commissioning group produces its commissioning intentions and plan. CCGs have obligations to consult on their plans and to involve the public in their formulation. That is a further opportunity, but beyond it there is a role in commissioning decisions, or decisions to change or reconfigure a service, for the local authority’s health and overview scrutiny committee, which we are retaining and enhancing, so that, for the first time, NHS providers in the public sector or private providers providing NHS-contracted services can be held accountable for their decisions. That is a change from the arrangements under the previous Administration.
Those are just a few of the steps, but ultimately we have retained the provisions for a reference by the local authority to the Secretary of State to make decisions regarding major reconfigurations. There are a number of steps. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend and gives the lie to those who suggest that the provisions have been watered down—the contrary is the case.
We have committed to use the Secretary of State’s powers to specify the criteria that local healthwatch organisations must satisfy when it comes to strong involvement by volunteers and lay members, including in their governance and leadership. We want to ensure that local healthwatch organisations break out of existing models and find ways of reaching and involving far wider and more representative populations than hitherto.
I can confirm that there are a number of amendments, the majority of which are technical in nature, relating to the Health and Care Professions Council, NICE, and the NHS Information Centre. Part 7 of the Bill relates to the regulation of health and social care workers. The Government have made a technical alteration to the provisions amending article 12 of the Health Professions Order 2001 to enable the Health Professions Council to recognise training undertaken in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as sufficient for admission to its register as a social worker. The amendments also give the council the power to assess training or professional expertise and experience in social work gained outside England but within the UK.
Part 8 of the Bill establishes the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—I emphasise the word “care”—and extends its remit to adults’ and children’s social care. NICE will play a central role in driving quality improvement through the production of robust, evidence-based quality standards and other guidance across the NHS, social care and public health. That is yet another measure in the Bill that supports and drives greater integration of health and social care than has existed in the past. The Government have made minor and technical amendments to part 8 to avoid the potential for misinterpretation and to ensure that NICE’s functions can be exercised effectively in practice.
It is important that patients continue to have access to NICE-approved drugs and treatments in line with the NHS constitution and accompanying handbook, whether those fall within the future responsibilities of the NHS or of local authorities. We have therefore amended the regulation-making power in clause 234 of part 8 so that the provision in regulations to replicate the effect of the current funding direction for NICE technology appraisal recommendations may also be applied to local authorities in respect of the drugs and treatments that they may prescribe for public health purposes, such as smoking cessation aids.
Part 9 establishes for the first time the NHS Information Centre in primary legislation, setting out its powers in relation to the collection, analysis, publication or dissemination of information. The Government have made a number of amendments—to clauses 255 and 257—and inserted new clauses after clauses 252 and 257 that further strengthen the protection of individuals’ confidential personal information while ensuring that the wider benefits of safely and securely sharing information, which include improvements in the quality of services and treatments, can be realised.
The amendments will, for example, restrict the people who can require the centre to collect confidential, personal, identifiable information; clarify the circumstances in which the centre may require others to provide it with confidential, personal, identifiable information; and require a code of practice to be published, setting out how confidential information must be handled. That provides an essential safe haven that can provide a powerful driver to support research and quality improvement in the NHS.
To support these amendments, we have made a number of minor and technical amendments to part 9 and to schedule 19. Finally, we made a minor and technical amendment in part 11 relating to the transfer scheme, which is set out in clause 294. That provision allows for flexibility in how the Secretary of State holds his shares in any property company. That is normal for company structures and is in a form already used by the Secretary of State with his other companies.
I urge hon. Members to support these amendments, including amendment 181.
I start by sharing with hon. Members a letter to the Prime Minister on 13 March from Malcolm Alexander, who is the chair of the National Association of LINks Members, the national body representing 150 statutory independent local involvement networks that promote the public and patient voice in health and social care. The letter is about the amendments to HealthWatch that were made in the other place and are before us now. He wrote to register his
“strong objections to the government’s major policy change on Healthwatch—specifically your decision to abandon plans to establish statutory Local Healthwatch bodies…Instead of creating independent statutory bodies led by local people who can monitor, influence, involve the public, hold the local authority and NHS to account; the government plan to create weak bodies that will not be independent, but will be funded by and accountable to the local authority they are monitoring. There will be no genuine accountability to the public.”
He then makes this rather perceptive comment:
“Plans for a statutory Healthwatch body were probably the only part of the Health and Social Care Bill that had any public support.”
“Your government’s ambition”—
not your Government, Mr Deputy Speaker, but the Prime Minister’s—
“to establish independent, statutory Healthwatch organisations that would help achieve equity and empowerment in relation to access to NHS and social care services, has been diminished to such a degree, that Healthwatch will have little impact…The aspiration to achieve equity and excellence in public involvement in health and social care, especially for the most vulnerable people, has been replaced by a model that has lost its central purpose of building effective patient and user led bodies that can influence the planning of health and social care.”
I will continue reading from this letter because if the Government really want to hear the patient and public voice, Members should do too, and that is what Malcolm Alexander represents. He writes:
“In our discussions with the Earl Howe and”
the Department of Health
“over the past year, we were led to believe that LINks would evolve and go through a transition into Healthwatch. It is incomprehensible to us that the plans that were developing for Healthwatch have been replaced, at very short notice, by a highly confusing set of amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill that are very unlikely to achieve the objectives of the Transition Plan and will be very poor”
value for money. He continues:
“It was the stated policy of the Coalition that patients and users of social care must be at the heart of everything that is done—not just as beneficiaries of care, but as participants, in shared decision-making.”
Malcolm Alexander also writes that the Secretary of State
“has continuously said, ‘there should be no decision about us, without us’. Why has this promise and aspiration been abandoned and why is the government planning to abolish plans for an effective statutory model of local Healthwatch and replacing it with one that will be chaotic, diffuse and weak with no leadership role for patients and the public? Instead of engaged and empowered patients and users of social services taking a leading role—many volunteers who have led LINks are feeling disempowered, demoralised and demotivated. We had hoped and believed that at last Healthwatch would genuinely empower”
patients and the public
“through being populated by ordinary people in the community. This hope is now lost.”
He finishes with an apt comment on the entire Bill:
“This is a betrayal of public trust and an appalling waste of public money.”
The Government have repeatedly claimed that the Bill will put patients and the public at the heart of the NHS and that a crucial core purpose of the Bill is that for patients there will be “no decision about me without me.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Opposition Members have consistently argued, since the first Commons Committee stage, that the Government’s proposals for HealthWatch are weak and ineffective, and will fail to give patients a strong and independent voice to shape local health and council services. [Interruption.] The Minister chunters from a sedentary position. We always saw through the Government’s plans; now everyone else has too.
More than 67 Government amendments about HealthWatch England and local healthwatch bodies were tabled in the other place. These amendments make major changes to the Government’s original proposals, ensuring that they will be even weaker still. The Government’s amendments 181 and 366, tabled in the other place, remove clause 179 and the related schedule 15, which place a requirement on local healthwatch organisations to be statutory bodies. As the NALM rightly says, the Government made this change without any prior mention to the House, or even in Committee in the other place, and more importantly without any consultation with patients’ groups.
Local authorities will now contract social enterprises or voluntary organisations to provide local healthwatch functions. Councils will be able to split these functions if they choose. The small voluntary groups, social enterprises and, indeed, private sector bodies will be expected somehow to provide a strong and critical voice on behalf of patients about local services—services that may be provided by the very local councils contracting and funding them. The joint effect of these amendments is to divide up the functions of HealthWatch, to break down the synergies between the different roles, to require bidding to win tenders for the delivery of various services and to leave local healthwatch bodies with no automatic consistency or authority to speak on behalf of a community.
The Government have repeatedly argued that the Bill is necessary to give clinical commissioning groups statutory status, to guarantee that professionals are in the driving seat. The question is: why are the Government giving organisations that are supposed to empower professionals a statutory status, but now removing that status from the bodies that are supposed to empower patients? The weak status of HealthWatch England nationally remains. It is still a mere committee of the Care Quality Commission. All that the Government have done is say that a majority of members on the committee should not be members of the CQC. HealthWatch England should be the voice of the people in the NHS. Making it a committee of the CQC is a fundamental error. Patients and the public must have confidence that HealthWatch England will speak up for them, including where it believes that the Care Quality Commission has failed to monitor or inspect local NHS services or local council services properly, including care homes. How will HealthWatch England do that if it is funded and housed within the CQC, an organisation that has already been criticised for lacking strategic focus and the resources necessary to do its job effectively?
The Government say that HealthWatch must be part of the CQC in order to get access to information and other resources. However, if the duty in the Bill on all NHS organisations to collaborate—a duty that the Government have made much of—is so strong, why would it not also apply to the CQC in collaborating with a separate, independent HealthWatch England? The Government have also completely failed to ensure that HealthWatch will have the ring-fenced funding that it needs to do its job properly. Funding for HealthWatch England and local healthwatch bodies is only £20 million, compared with £492 million for the NHS Commissioning Board and £140 million a year for Monitor. HealthWatch would have already struggled to provide an equally strong voice in the NHS for patients and the public on the basis of those resources, but now the Minister in the other place, Baroness Northover, has made it clear that funding for local healthwatch bodies will not be ring-fenced, but instead be part of the formula-based grant to local councils. Failing to ring-fence local healthwatch funding will virtually guarantee that those bodies will fail to provide a strong local voice.
That is not just my view; it is the view of National Voices, which represents 150 patient groups, and says that giving local healthwatch groups a strong voice will be possible only if
“the funding is ring-fenced. Otherwise local authorities will continue to use the funding for what they regard as higher priorities.”
National Voices says that HealthWatch is being “set up to fail”. It is right. In its latest briefing on the Bill, it says that the risks the Bill poses include a
“lack of independence at national and local levels…insufficient power…insufficient funding,”
weak support for the transition, and
“reform fatigue among local activists.”
I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady’s arguments about the structure and funding of local healthwatch bodies and HealthWatch England. I ask this question not to be deliberately mischievous, but in view of her comments and criticisms: what is the preferred option of the Labour party for those scrutiny bodies?
I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to read the Opposition Front Bench amendment tabled in the House of Lords, which set out how we could have a separate independent, body with clear lines of accountability to local healthwatch organisations. That is the policy of the Opposition. Unfortunately, however, that amendment was not accepted.
National Voices represents 150 patient groups. I was interested that the Minister said that the Richmond Group of charities somehow supported everything that the Government were doing in this area. However, I should remind the House that National Voices includes groups such as Asthma UK, Arthritis Care, the British Heart Foundation, Breast Cancer Care, Carers UK, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, Dementia UK, Mencap, Mind, Macmillan Cancer Support, Rethink Mental Illness, the Stroke Association and many others. Those groups are saying that the Government are setting HealthWatch up to fail, because it will not provide a strong enough voice for patients and the public.
Interestingly, officials within the Government’s own Department are saying the same thing. Hon. Members will know that the Government have refused to publish the transition risk register, but today I have been passed the risk register from the Department of Health’s programme board for HealthWatch. It is marked “Restricted”, and it sets out clearly what the Department’s officials see as the risks involved in the Government’s proposals on HealthWatch. It deals with high risk in terms of impact, as well as with likelihood, so it does involve prediction.
The risk register says that there is a high risk that
“existing LINks members and volunteers become disenchanted about the new arrangements for local HealthWatch and leave the system”
because of “insufficient consultation”. It goes on to say that there is a high risk that local authorities
“will not invest in establishing effective relationships with existing LINks and other community organisations”
because the process has been poorly managed. It states that there is a high risk that there will be a “narrow engagement group” and that HealthWatch
“doesn’t work effectively with providers and commissioners. HW is not fully representative.”
It identifies the cause for that as the engagement process having been “insufficiently inclusive”. It sees a further high risk in relation to HealthWatch England:
“The establishment of the HWE committee within CQC is either too isolated or too prescribed by DH/CQC plans.”
The cause is identified:
“Early design processes for establishing HWE do not engage broad range of partners resulting to ineffective regulations being laid.”
Those ineffective regulations are being laid by this Government, according to the risk register of the Department of Health’s own HealthWatch programme board.
Some of the Lords amendments in this group would make minor improvements to the Bill in relation to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and to the functioning of the information centre. I want to return to the Minister’s earlier claim that huge improvements would be seen in public health. Some amendments relate to the employment of public health professionals by local authorities. The trouble is that the Faculty of Public Health, the body that represents those people, opposes the Bill and wants it to be dropped. It has stated that the Bill will widen inequalities, increase health care costs and reduce the quality of care. It says that there are significant risks—[Interruption.] If hon. Members are making claims that their Bill will improve public health and that the amendments will improve arrangements for public health professionals, perhaps they should listen to the views of those public health professionals. The Faculty of Public Health has identified
“significant risks associated with the NHS structures, the new health system and environment that the Bill will enact.”
The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was, perhaps courageously, trying to get the Minister to set out what powers local authorities would have under the new system. He will know, however, that health and wellbeing boards will not have the final say over GP commissioning plans. They will not be able to stop them. The only course left to them will be to appeal to the NHS Commissioning Board. I would respectfully point out to the right hon. Gentleman that if he thinks that the NHS Commissioning Board will automatically agree to complaints from local authorities, his experience of the NHS is very different from mine. We need to be clear that there will be no sign-off by health and wellbeing boards.
These are important issues, but I hope the hon. Lady recognises that on the public health agenda, which Labour Members regularly say is so important, there is now—I think for the first time—written into legislation an obligation on the Secretary of State, and therefore on the NHS, to secure
“continuous improvement in the quality of services provided to individuals for or in connection with…the protection or improvement of public health.”
That must be reflected all the way down the tree; it will not stay only in the Department of Health office.
The right hon. Gentleman might think that that on its own will protect the system, but as he well knows, I am pointing out what public health professionals are saying. [Interruption.] What I am saying is that the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the Bill is not shared by those who work in public health who think that there are huge risks in it. I was also making the point that when it comes to the fundamental issue of the control or powers of the health and wellbeing boards, we should be very clear that they do not have sign-off. That was my point.
I was unfairly chuntering from a sedentary position a minute ago, and I thought I would like to place something on the record. The hon. Lady refers to the Faculty of Public Health, and I have obviously heard its public comments about the Bill. However, it is right there in new section 1B in clause 3 that the Secretary of State has a duty “to reduce inequalities”. I heard an Opposition Member chuntering from a sedentary position earlier, too, to the effect that this is a matter of faith and trust, but this House’s job is to scrutinise and enact legislation. There it is in the Bill in black and white—on green —[Interruption.] Yes, for the first time in 13 years, as I do not recall seeing it in any national health Bill before.
The point is that the rest of the Bill absolutely trumps that. That is the concern of others—[Interruption.] Conservative Members groan, but people who work in the system say that the Bill—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)has not stumped me. He said that one phrase in a Bill is supposedly going to outweigh the rest of the implications in the Bill, which the Faculty of Public Health says will increase the postcode lottery and widen inequalities, without providing value for money or improving the quality of services. Conservative Members should listen to the concerns of the people who work in the system.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me—
She will, you know. Does she agree that it is apparent over the years that it is one thing to see an intention built into a Bill, but quite another to see it implemented on the ground? It is the contention of Opposition Members that, worthwhile as the statements in the Bill are, in the context of this particular car crash of a Bill, some of those intentions around public health will be dead on arrival.
I have told the Minister that I am not giving way to him.
These amendments are overwhelmingly outweighed by the huge change put forward by the Government in abolishing an effective statutory model for healthwatch bodies locally, which was supposed to give patients and the public a strong and independent voice in the NHS. Labour Members cannot accept the Government’s removal of that statutory body, which they promised and have now betrayed. The amendments make a mockery of the Deputy Prime Minister’s claim in the letter he wrote with Baroness Williams to Liberal Democrat Members that the Bill will ensure “proper accountability” to the public. It makes a mockery, too, of the claims made by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that this Bill will put real power into the hands of patients and the public, and that there will be “No decision about me without me.” And, as the national body that represents patients and public involvement in the NHS has said, it is
“a betrayal of public trust”.
This is what has happened throughout the proceedings on a Bill for which the Government—Conservatives and Liberal Democrats—have no mandate, and for which they know they have no mandate. They promised that there would be no top-down reorganisation, but did not present any proposals for an independent regulator on the basis of the system that exists in the privatised utilities because they were worried about what people would say. Above all, on this fundamental issue, which concerns the say that the public and patients have in the NHS, the Government have—as the National Association of LINks Members said—betrayed people’s trust in what they promised, and for that reason we will not support the amendments.
These amendments—the last group that we shall consider tonight—contain important issues, including that of local community involvement, which was raised by the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall). Like other Members, I have an interest in the subject, and have had throughout my time in politics. I happen to know Malcolm Alexander—who was cited by the hon. Lady—very well, because he was once secretary of Southwark community health council.
Let me present my honest opinion of the Bill to my friends on the Government Front Bench. It is not the Bill that I would have presented to Parliament. I think that it has gone much too far in its efforts to introduce top-down reorganisation, which is not what we told the public we would give them; and although there was a fine balance between the arguments in favour of primary care trusts and those in favour of the new structure that we have created, I believe that by changing what we said we would do we have caused more uncertainty, not least among health professionals.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that the process to which the Bill has been subjected has improved it hugely. I am convinced that a year ago my party colleagues performed a public service by setting out an agenda for change, and that we have helped to persuade the Government to amend the Bill in 2,000 different ways. That is not my figure, but one given by the Library in a note with which it provided us before the debate. Since the Bill returned to Committee about a year ago, 2,000 amendments have been tabled, many of them in the House of Commons after the Future Forum had done its work. Today we are considering—technically—374 amendments, all of which are going in the right direction.
It is interesting to observe that only three Labour amendments have been tabled today to the changes proposed by the House of Lords, and that two of them dealt with the same issue. Effectively, that means that the Labour Front Bench has sought to change only three of the many proposals made by the Lords. Of course the 374 amendments are not all substantive—some are consequential, and some are small—but we should not undermine or understate the substantive changes that have been made since the Bill left this place.
Many outside the House believe that there is an opportunity for Members of Parliament to vote on every Bill at the end of all its proceedings, and to deliver a final yes or no decision. There is not, although I think that there should be. I hope to persuade colleagues that we can change our procedure so that all public legislation, whether it starts in the Lords or the Commons, ends up in the Commons for Third Reading. I think that that would make for more democratically accountable decisions. We could then examine the Bill as amended by the Lords, and take a final view. However, we are not there yet; tonight we are considering all these amendments, and with them I thoroughly concur.
I have listened to the debate about accountability, and I accept that there is real disagreement on whether the new system proposed by the Government, at short notice, is an adequate substitute for the statutory HealthWatch. I remember a time—the hon. Member for Leicester West was not in the House then—when, from the Opposition Benches, I ferociously opposed the Labour Government’s proposal to abolish community health councils. I thought that it was a move in the wrong direction, as did my constituents. I still believe that any measure that does not empower my constituents— and the hon. Lady’s in Leicester—and enable them to become involved in decisions, consultations and processes will not be a good thing.
Ministers have been asked some perfectly proper questions today, and I am not 100% persuaded that their answers suggest that we will have the best possible system. Let me be absolutely honest: I believe that although, by and large, the amendments contain huge improvements, there is a great deal of unfinished business. Some will be dealt with in regulations, which will enable us to return to these matters, while some will be judged on the basis of experience.
I asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State to put on record the way in which the public can be more involved, because I am clear that there are significant additional opportunities for the public to become involved. That is why, in those areas, it is a good Bill. I am clear that local councils should have more involvement. He may remember that, as my party’s representative when the Bill setting up the Greater London authority was introduced, I argued that the GLA should have the power of the London strategic health authority, so that there would be a democratically accountable strategic health authority. I have always believed in more accountable local health services and in local councillors and councils having more say.
The right hon. Gentleman says that there is more to do and that that can be done in regulations, but that is not the case on the amendment that we are being asked to agree, which will abolish local healthwatch organisations as statutory bodies. That cannot be changed in regulations. Will he vote against that?
I understand that. I was not pretending that everything could be dealt with in regulations. I said to the hon. Lady, I hope fairly—I am trying to be fair—that I thought she made a good point that the proposal has come late in the day and does not have the support of the people leading the community involvement at the moment, one of whom she cited and whom I have known for many years. I do not think that the Government have yet given a full explanation of why the new proposals are better than the old ones. I understand why they have suggested that there should not be a one-size-fits-all approach, but I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will explain, because I think that Ministers have a case to answer.
My right hon. Friend will have heard me intervene on my hon. Friend the Minister of State on that issue, seeking the rationale behind the decision to remove the statutory basis for HealthWatch. As I understand it, his response was that there would be a statutory measure to achieve this—healthwatch organisations would be tied in with local authorities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a potential weakness there? If we are seeking to integrate health and social care, a conflict of interest may arise if a body is tied in with the local authority but is also supposed to be scrutinising the activities of that authority.
I understand that point and share some of those concerns. I hope that the Minister will explain before the end of the debate why the more variegated model will not carry the risks that were alluded to by the hon. Lady when she read from the document earlier and by my hon. Friend.
I want to flag up two other things in relation to accountability, one of which is to do with the decisions made by the commissioning groups. Like many colleagues, I met a group of my local doctors again the other day. They had two areas of concern. First, they had concerns about the Bill. There is a lot of work to be done by Ministers and by all of us to allay concerns about the Bill when it becomes an Act—that is, on the basis of the facts, not the fiction. There is a huge amount of work to do. I do not think that we should underestimate that. Secondly, they have concerns about the system as it is now, before any measures have become law. I hope that Ministers have heard those concerns, some of which are not of this Government’s making but derive from previous legislation.
There is a concern that there is an excessive interest in some places in looking for private work and private contracts. There is a concern that the middle class and well heeled will speak more loudly and influence the commissioners in their interests, rather than in the interests of the poor and the vulnerable. That is a real issue in a constituency such as mine, where a lot of people are on low incomes and in need of a good public health system.
I want to put on the record that, although I understand the argument about getting rid of tiers of management and giving GPs the power to commission, and that is a good thing, it will not be a good thing if the decisions end up being taken not by GPs and the commissioning groups and the people who are meant to be taking them, but by the people they appoint to do the work for them. They may be private sector companies or somebody else. We have to make sure that it is health service professionals who make the decisions, in an open, accountable and transparent way, not people they employ, who may have a big vested interest in capturing more work for their own commercial gain.
Just to be absolutely clear, may I say that clinical commissioning groups cannot subcontract decision making about their commissioning functions—that is crucial to the effective delivery of this. On the issue of the local healthwatch organisations, the Bill makes it clear that local healthwatch has to exist in each locality, and that local authorities have to contract for it to exist and to provide the range of services that the Bill provides for it to undertake.
I absolutely understand both those points. I understand that commissioning groups cannot subcontract their decisions, but the point I am making to my hon. Friend and to other Ministers is that we have to ensure that the groups do not end up in the position where, although they retain the decision, they leave lots of the thinking about it to the people they employ to do the work. The decisions have to be made by the health professionals. In reply to the Labour amendment, the Minister rightly said that it is a safeguard that local authorities will have the decision on the local healthwatch. Where a local authority is concerned that it should remain in a particular format, it will be able to do so.
In conclusion, I am clear, as I have said to Labour’s Front-Bench team, to constituents and to my friends on the ministerial team, that our constituents still have a huge amount of concern about this Bill; I am clear that a lot of it has arisen because of misinformation and misrepresentation; and I am clear that this is not a privatisation Bill and not a “carve up the NHS” Bill. However, everyone, including Government Members, will need to continue to be vigilant and to continue to talk to the health professionals. I hope that the Government and the health professionals will start talking again very soon. We will also all need to make sure that we understand their concerns and pass them on. I know what my constituents want at the end of this debate; they do not actually want lots of conversations about structures of the health service.
I listened to what the right hon. Gentleman said about misrepresentation and I wonder who he had in mind. Did he have in mind the members of his own party who went to Gateshead and asked for the Lords not to support the Third Reading of the Bill, although they did so yesterday? Did he have in mind those people who raised the most serious concerns about this Bill? I am talking about his own party members, who overturned his party’s leadership. I will not sit here and have him suggest that the concerns exist only among those on this Front Bench, because that is not the case; they exist throughout the country, and he needs to acknowledge that.
Let me deal with both those points. I acknowledge that absolutely. On past occasions, the right hon. Gentleman has been to our party conference, although I do not think he came to the Gateshead conference. [Interruption.] It appears that one of his colleagues did. There were and are concerns in my party about this. My party wrote the plan for the NHS, which the good Labour post-war Government implemented, so of course we think we are as much the proprietors of the NHS as his party and of course there are concerns. There are many concerns—many colleagues are not happy with the Bill—and I am owning up to that.
I am absolutely clear about that, but do not let the right hon. Gentleman misrepresent what happened at Gateshead. My party is a democratic party. It is more democratic than his, thank God, and much more democratic than the Tory party. Our party voted to commend the Lords for the work they had done, but to suspend judgment on the Bill. My party neither voted to say that the Bill should not go ahead, nor to decide that the Bill should go ahead. That was what the debate, in the end, was about. There was not quite a majority saying, “Stop the Bill”; that was not the view of the conference, although there are many people in our party, as there are in his—this view is also shared by some in the Tory party and elsewhere—who would want the Bill to be stopped.
The Bill is not going to be stopped; it will become law. The Bill contains many good things. My concern now is to reflect what constituents, both health professionals and those who are not health professionals, come to talk to me about. They feel that there is a need to get back to concentrating on the things that really matter, such as making sure the wards are clean; making sure that the staff are of the highest quality; making sure that the waiting times go down; making sure that we can get decent care for the mentally ill; and making sure that our NHS is able to do better on all that it does. That is what the concerns are.
I want to make sure that Ministers understand that once the Bill is on the statute book there should be no cause for rejoicing, because this is not a matter for rejoicing. It is a matter of a challenge for Government to go back in humility to the health professionals and say, “We may not have got it all right—we may have got some of it wrong—but we are willing to listen, to learn and to work with you.” In the end it is collaboration between local authorities, local councillors, local people, Ministers, parliamentarians and those millions of fantastic people who work in the national health service who will make sure that the health service survives. It will survive and prosper in this country as a public health service—thank God—and we must all work together to respond to concerns, alleviate fears and not fan the flames. We must make sure that from now on we work on the basis of facts, not fiction, and that we work with those who have the concern, like we do, that the NHS should survive and prosper.
I had not intended to speak in this part of the debate but I was so underwhelmed and unimpressed by the Minister that I felt moved to do so. It is interesting to follow the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). I think he was offering his support to the Front-Bench team, but often it was not entirely possible to be certain. One thing he talked about was quite telling—the flaws in the systems we as a Government tried to put in place after we did away with community health councils. The Secretary of State and his colleagues were very critical about those arrangements when they sat on the Opposition Benches. One might have hoped that they would make their criticisms and learn the lessons and not repeat some of the mistakes that we certainly made in the arrangements for a strong patient voice and strong patient representation after the community health councils, but this evening’s debate and what we have been presented with in this final stage of the Bill make it quite clear that that is not the case.
At the heart of the proposal in the White Paper, which was co-signed by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in July 2010, was the proposition to put patients at the very heart of the NHS. That was common ground and was supported by many. It was a promise that really went to the heart of the proposition about the NHS changes. Despite that promise, it is clear that patients are not at the heart of the NHS but at the margins. The slogan for patients that there will be no decision about me without me is simply that—a slogan. I remember that early in the autumn of 2010 patient groups who were trying to come to terms with the plans were saying—quietly at first but more loudly later—that the arrangements in the White Paper and then in the Bill when it was first introduced in the House would lead to less involvement of patients in future, not more. Since that point, the Bill has had more than 1,000 amendments—some 374 amendments were made in the other place and we have four hours to consider those amendments tonight—but looking at the Bill now I can see very little difference from the position as it was first expressed almost 18 months ago, when it first caused concern to those patient groups.
In this area of all areas in which party politics should not be part of provision for a strong patient voice, representation and safeguarding, I want to take the Government at their word. They said that they wanted to set up at the heart of the NHS a strong independent voice for patients. The House needs to consider what that means, and to do that we need to go back to first principles.
It seems to me that there are four principles or characteristics which must serve as yardsticks by which to measure whether an organisation can be a strong, effective voice for patients. The first is independence. In order to function as a strong, fearless voice for patients, any organisation that acts on their behalf must be independent of commissioners, independent of providers and independent of regulators because part of its job on behalf of patients may well be to stand up to and criticise the providers, the commissioners or the regulators at some point in fulfilling its duties. The arrangements that the House is asked to approve tonight fail that first basic test of an effective organisation for patients.
The second principle or yardstick is representation. If the organisation is to be an effective representative voice for patients, clearly it must have some representation system and accountability to the people on whose behalf it acts and speaks. Again, on that test, the arrangements that we are asked to approve tonight fail. The third principle or test of an effective patient organisation is whether it is rooted or grounded in good local information and monitoring. Again, nothing in the arrangements and nothing I heard from the Minister, who has now left the Chamber in the middle of the debate that he opened, gave me any reassurance that that third principle or test is met in the arrangements.
The fourth test or principle for an effective, independent organisation surely must be adequate resources. There are serious questions over the nature, the level and the system for the resources that will allow such an organisation to do the job that we in the House are legislating for it to do on behalf of patients.
At a national level first, I say to the Secretary of State as his junior Minister is not present that setting up HealthWatch England as a sub-committee of the Care Quality Commission just does not cut it. It is implausible that a body can act impartially and fearlessly on behalf of patients if it is a sub-committee of the care regulator. How can it be, and equally important, how can it appear to be independent and authoritative, if it is set up within the administrative, organisational and financial embrace of the CQC? The CQC itself is clearly one of those organisations that HealthWatch England and local healthwatch bodies may need to stand up to and criticise.
There was an amendment in the other place to give the Government an opportunity to change their mind and set up HealthWatch England as an independent statutory body. That Labour-led, Labour-moved amendment was defeated in the other place, I am sad to say, by a combination of Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers.
Secondly, on the local healthwatch organisations, I think I understood what the Minister said earlier—that the Bill introduces a statutory duty on local authorities to set up a local healthwatch organisation. Placing a statutory duty on a local authority to carry out a particular activity is very different from creating a statutory basis for that organisation to operate in its own right. How will that arrangement at local level ensure independence, representativeness, good local links and resources—the four things that I would argue are the essential elements of an effective organisation on behalf of patients? On the fourth point, which is about resources, I may have missed something in today’s debate or in the debate at the other end of the building, but we still have not had clear answers to the following questions. I would be grateful if the Minister answered these questions when he deigns to return to the Chamber to respond to the debate, unless the Secretary of State will be doing that himself.
First, will local healthwatch organisations be funded directly by the Department of Health? Secondly, if funding will go via local authorities, what will the mechanism be for that funding? Thirdly, will funding for local healthwatch organisations be consistent across local areas so that patients, wherever they live, can be confident that they have a strong local representative organisation working on their behalf? Otherwise, this is legislation for a local lottery in patient representation and the strength of local patient voices.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the many excellent points he is making. Is it his understanding, as it is mine, that all the local healthwatch activities could be carried out by private sector—and therefore, for-profit—bodies? Does he feel that providing the strong, independent, representative voice for local people should be a profitable activity for private sector organisations?
My answer to my hon. Friend’s second question is no, and I do not know the answer to her first question, which should really be directed to the Minister. We need an explanation of how the system for setting up, or in effect franchising, local patient organisations will be carried out, what sort of framework that will take place in, and what standards, if any, will be required for the way they are set up and run.
I find it dismaying, because there are so many people who are committed to the health service, work in the health service or are dependent on the health service, as we all are, and they want answers to that question, but the Government are simply not giving them. To be honest, I think that this stems from the genesis of the legislation, something that was ruled out explicitly in the Conservative party manifesto and the coalition agreement but then sprung in a White Paper less than two months after the general election. That meant that the civil service, the health profession and the NHS were unprepared for this huge reorganisation and this huge Bill, so in many respects, beyond the main decisions set out in the White Paper in July 2010, all the evidence indicates that the Government are making it up as they go along. The fact that we have seen more than 1,000 amendments to the Bill since it was first introduced is a further indication of that.
Is the Minister coming back?
My right hon. Friend is making a very decisive set of points. I would like briefly to draw his attention to the local patient healthwatch group in north Lincolnshire, Who Cares, which has produced some hard-hitting reports on matters such as mental health and discharge from hospital. Does he feel that arrangements are being put in place that will allow that sort of independence of view and those hard-hitting reports that help to improve the quality of care in future?
My hon. Friend hits right at the heart of the flaws in the arrangements proposed tonight, which I was going to move on to. I am sure that Who Cares has its ear to the ground, good local connections and strong representation, and I want to see that continue, as I am sure he does. The real question is whether those organisations can go beyond hard-hitting reports, and who then will be accountable for the action that might need to be taken to follow them up. Where are the enforcement powers that could ensure that any problems they identify on behalf of patients are properly dealt with? I will move on to that point in a moment.
In a sense, that links to the point I wish to put to Ministers now. In the arrangements before us it seems that if a local healthwatch organisation is not up to standard, is not doing the job and is somehow failing patients in an area or falling short of what is expected, we will be offered a new provision, a new power introduced by the Government through an amendment in the other place, for HealthWatch England to write a letter to the local authority, telling it that it must do better. Thinking of the two local authority leaders in the area that I am privileged to represent—Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley metropolitan borough council, and Roger Stone, the leader of Rotherham metropolitan borough council—I could not use language in this House that is likely to reflect their reaction. If I think of them, as elected local government leaders, receiving a letter from a sub-committee of a national quango responsible for regulating things that their local authorities have little or no responsibility for, telling them that they are not doing their job properly, I can just imagine their reaction. Quite frankly, “You’re having a laugh.” That is simply not a serious power of, or provision for, redress on behalf of patients when a local patients’ representative organisation is failing to do the job properly. So, no enforcement powers and no intervention powers, only the power to write a letter to the local authority.
In the end, that brings us to the point. At this stage, in the final hour, at the end of this extraordinary Bill’s passage through Parliament, we can see very clearly the truths at the heart of it. There is provision for an independent national commissioning board, an independent market regulator and independent hospital foundation trusts, but there is no provision for an independent patients’ organisation.
In this Bill there are powers to ensure strong action to guarantee competition, strong action to guarantee financial efficiency and strong action to guarantee professional concerns, but there are no powers to guarantee any sort of action, let alone strong action, on behalf of patients.
I listened very carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), who made a very good speech from our Front Bench. When she notes that the representative body, National Voices, says on behalf of patients and interests groups, “You’re setting us up to fail,” and reads the letter from Malcolm Alexander, the chair of the National Association of LINks Members, who says, “You’re creating weak bodies that will not be independent,” I think that we in this House should be worried. Such action is, to borrow a phrase, pennywise, pound foolish. The Government are cutting what to Ministers and civil servants might seem to be small corners, but there could be big consequences for patients.
I see a link—a common characteristic—between this debate and our earlier debate on the risk register. The Government will live to regret at length poor judgments and decisions made in haste and under pressure now. The Secretary of State will face the question of whether to release the transition risk register. If he insists on remaining resolute in refusing to disclose, and if he insists on keeping it secret, patients will ask, “What are they hiding from us?” In the future, in the months ahead, long after the Bill has received Royal Assent and is on the statute book, patients will rightly ask when things go wrong, “Did they know these risks were there, and why didn’t they tell us?”
The same applies to HealthWatch. When things go wrong, patients will find that they do not have the recourse and the representation that they may need to act and intervene on their behalf, and they may well find that the arrangements that we are invited to pass tonight are too weak to help them. I say to the Health Secretary, who is now on his own on the Front Bench, that this is likely to reinforce that lack of confidence and lack of trust in the notion that the Government’s huge upheaval in our NHS, and this huge piece of legislation before the House, really is in the best interests of the NHS and NHS patients.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister who moved these particularly important amendments, which will abolish a statutory organisation, HealthWatch, to be absent from the debate? If it is in order, is it not a huge discourtesy to Members on both sides of the House?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who has taken us round a number of issues, particularly in relation to the public’s ability to scrutinise, through the proposed healthwatch organisations, the effective delivery of commissioning in their areas.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) suggested, there is a desperate need for provision within our procedures whereby important Bills such as this, which have been significantly altered in another place, can be reviewed on Third Reading. Our earlier debate about the still unpublished transitional risk register was, in a sense, a proxy for that lack of a Third Reading debate.
This debate has placed public health and the role of HealthWatch, particularly local healthwatch, in the context of local health services being placed at risk. We have already discussed how clinical commissioning groups may be fundamentally conflicted. In my contribution to that debate, I posed questions about the conflicts that intrinsically exist within those organisations. I believe that HealthWatch should be there to provide scrutiny of those conflicts. Throughout the debates on the Bill, fundamental concerns have been expressed about the fragmentation of local health services. We need a strong and independent-minded local healthwatch in all our areas to be watching for that and looking out for opportunities to maintain the integration of local services.
I fear that one of the effects of such a major reorganisation of the health service nationally and locally will be to make it more difficult to deliver the £20 billion efficiency gain that the previous Government proposed and that the coalition Government intend should be delivered. That issue needs to be considered at national level, with HealthWatch, and at local level. I believe that we need an independent body that is capable of ensuring that efficiency gains are being achieved at local level and that keeps an eye on the commissioning and delivery of local health services.
The Royal College of Nursing has said today that there is a need to look carefully at staffing levels in front-line health services, including in acute hospitals. There is a debate about whether that should be mandatory. That has long been a concern of mine when looking at the delivery of local health services and it is identified by people when they visit hospitals. There are staff-to-patient ratios that, in my view, are barely tenable and barely safe. Qualified nurses are struggling to provide the support and care that patients require, simply because the staffing ratios are inadequate. The same ratios may have been adequate in the past when the throughput of patients and the acute status of patients were lower, but with the current turnaround of patients and their acute status, it is no surprise that the RCN’s survey has identified the need to review staffing levels in our wards.
In commenting on the level of nursing staff, will the hon. Gentleman observe that since the election, there has been a 5% improvement in the ratio of nurses to occupied beds in general and acute wards?
I am not in a position to doubt that figure. The question is whether the ratio is sufficient to ensure that there is safe staffing in our hospitals now, as the RCN identified after a recent survey. I understand the argument advanced by Ministers that it comes down to the management and the management of paperwork within hospitals, and is not just about staff-to-patient ratios. I do not want to have a debate just about staff -to-patient ratios, but that issue has been raised today and I believe that it resonates with people out there in the country, who can see that nurses in particular are struggling to provide adequate services within their hospitals. Those ratios have an effect on the level of care that nurses can provide, as has been found by a variety of reports. The problem is not down to the callousness of the nurses or untrained care assistants who provide the services—where that exists, it should clearly be rooted out of the service—but to whether staff resources are sufficient to maintain safe services on our hospital wards. I think the RCN is right to raise that issue.
That concern is relevant to ensuring that we have adequate local healthwatch services because it shows that we need independent scrutiny of the health service by a body that is not in the pocket of anyone, including the local authority, but that is able to scrutinise hospitals and speak out about staffing levels in its area. We cannot be dependent on the RCN reporting such matters to the Department and on there being top-down diktats that impose mandatory staffing levels that apply in all circumstances. Rather, there should be a local healthwatch that looks at the guidance and recommendations of the professional bodies and ensures that the services in its local hospitals are adequate to provide safe nursing and hospital care. That is why it is important to ensure that the local healthwatch bodies are, as far as is possible, independent of any external influences, whether from the Department, the NHS Commissioning Board, clinical commissioning groups or the local authority. That is where I shall take my arguments.
I shall sidestep that question at present and return to it later, because I first want to listen to the Minister’s winding-up speech. As I want to ensure that he has adequate time, I shall conclude my remarks as swiftly as possible.
I could, however, initiate a brief yah-boo interlude, such as by saying that the previous Government got rid of community health councils. Many people look back at the era of CHCs as the halcyon days of independent scrutiny of local provision. In creating local healthwatch, we should as far as possible mirror, and learn from, the excellent services provided by the CHCs.
On 26 October 2006, when the Secretary of State was the shadow Secretary of State, he set out his policies on HealthWatch. He said:
“I envisage it as an independent body with a separate funding stream and the right to decide its own agenda of work.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that has been completely changed under this Bill?
Earlier, I asked a question about the rationale behind the last-minute change from having independent bodies to the situation now, under which, as a result of both a proposal we are debating this evening and an amendment tabled in the Lords, we are allowing local authorities to commission community interest companies or others to provide the healthwatch function in their areas. That ties the local healthwatch into the local authority. I believe we should devolve and localise, and empower local communities as far as possible, but this change does not achieve that. Instead, it empowers the local authority. If there is a genuine intention to ensure that we have integrated health and social care, then there is a problem here. If the local authority provides both the social care and the local scrutiny, I fear we may not have effective scrutiny of the work of the local authority in this regard.
Liberal Democrats in the Lords have done excellent work in advancing a large number of amendments to improve the Bill, and I am perplexed that the proposal before us tonight appears, in effect, to backpedal from that progress made in other areas. That is why I hope the Minister will reassure us on the rationale for this proposal, and assure us that the new body will be genuinely independent and genuinely effective. I shall therefore reserve judgment on the question of which way to vote tonight.
Although the HealthWatch issue is important, in the brief time available to me I want to talk about Lords amendments 249 to 283, dealing with the health and social care information centre and patient confidentiality. The amendments raise several issues about who would have access on a mandatory basis to the information provided by the centre as well as changes in the terminology used to refer to the persons who would be able to make such requests. There are important issues here about patient confidentiality and protections to ensure that the right checks and balances are in place. I am sure Ministers will be well aware of the arguments made in Committee about the issue, and I wish to seek some assurances and express some concerns. Perhaps the Minister may be able to address some of them.
One issue that was raised in Committee was the power of the Secretary of State to direct the information centre as he wishes. The Opposition think it is a good thing that the Secretary of State should discharge certain powers, particularly when failures happen, and be held to account for them by the House. Naturally, we support the view that people should have greater access to, and control over, their health and social care needs and the care that they receive. I am sure the whole House can subscribe to that idea. However, the opportunity to access health and social care records has to be tempered by protections for patient confidentiality and, equally importantly, protections to prevent the misuse of information by private bodies.
The Opposition have raised the issues of access to patient information and privatisation, and expressed concerns that sensitive information may find its way to organisations that will use it for commercial reasons. In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) spoke about the value to patients of anonymised data, which enable them to make relevant choices. It is not a huge leap of faith to imagine that those same data would be commercially valuable to pharmaceutical companies and commercial interests. I am concerned to hear from the Minister that adequate safeguards are in place in the Lords amendments.
It is valuable to the debate that my hon. Friend is highlighting his concerns about confidentiality. Does he agree that a theme running through the Bill is that it will undermine the confidence that patients can have in the people who deliver services to them?
I do agree. Indeed, Professor Steve Field, whom the Government appointed to head up the listening exercise, agreed. He stated:
“Better information systems and the development of more integrated electronic care records will be a major enabling factor.”
Without better information sharing with patients, and between professionals across organisations, it will be quite difficult to provide better co-ordinated and integrated care, which we all want to see. As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, I represent a former coal mining area. One of the slogans on the miners’ banners in Durham is, “Knowledge is Power”. That is a true sentiment that can be applied equally to health policy.
The buck should stop with the Secretary of State. In Committee, we considered the possibility of failure in NHS organisations, and Ministers reassured us that the issue would be effectively addressed in amendments. I would like some reassurance this evening that Ministers can foresee patients gaining greater access to their records, and I would like some detail of how that might be achieved. In view of the current cuts to the service—[Interruption.] Not the new centre that has not been set up, the existing NHS Information Centre. In view of that, is the Minister setting out any red lines for accomplishing the ambitious targets that he has set out in the Bill?
A House of Commons Library briefing note defines the role of the health and social care information centre as a special health authority. It states that the NHS Information Centre will be
“a non-departmental public body. In its role collecting data to support central bodies in discharging their statutory functions, it will have powers to require data to be provided to it when it is working on behalf of the Secretary of State or the NHS Commissioning Board”.
The Minister said that he had not cut funding, but there have been cuts to funding this year to the NHS Information Centre, which is separate from the new body that is being set up by the Bill.
The centre has had to reduce spending on surveys, which often form the basis of planning health care interventions. The general lifestyle survey, for example, carried out every year by the Office for National Statistics on behalf of Government Departments, has had its funding withdrawn by the NHS Information Centre, according to information that has been supplied to me and other hon. Members. The survey provides statistics on public health issues, which are dear to my heart and the hearts of many Opposition Members.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the important points he is making, particularly his last point on public health. He and I represent constituencies in the north of England that suffer from great health inequalities. Does he agree that knowing and understanding those health inequalities is an essential part of being able to address them?
I agree with my hon. Friend and am grateful for her intervention. Those points were exercised in a recent debate in Westminster Hall. The basic point that I seek to make—I will finish on this—is that in order to plan effective health interventions, we need an effective and reliable evidence base. I would like assurances from the Minister that the necessary funding will be in place to ensure that that is delivered as a consequence of that measure in the Bill.
May I trespass upon your good nature, Mr Speaker, to endeavour to speak on behalf of the House to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), who is not well, but who has risen from his sick bed to join us today because this subject is of such importance?
Those of us who stood at the Bar in the other place listening to the debate—[Interruption.] Not that bar. Those of us who stood at the Bar of the other place listening to the debate on the Bill cannot help but to have been massively impressed by the breadth and depth of expertise that was displayed. We had past presidents of royal colleges and consultants, and people from every aspect of our glorious national health service, giving their expertise, passion and analysis.
I come from a slightly different perspective. I spent more than 10 years working in the national health service—this is specifically in relation to the issue of health and wellbeing boards, in case you are worried, Mr Speaker—before community health councils were established in 1974, when, frankly, the NHS was not run for patients, people or the local community, and when there was little or no consultation with democratically elected local authorities, let alone with special interest groups or people representing areas that were ill served by the NHS. Community health councils had not only statutory powers, but a budget. They enabled the voice of the people to be heard in wards, corridors and A and E departments throughout the national health service.
We have heard tonight an extraordinary, agonising attempt on the part of the junior section of the coalition to justify what had been for years their principled support of a public voice within the NHS. The Liberal Democrats say that they will scrutinise the measure having voted to destroy that for which they have stood for so long. It is like somebody setting fire to a house and saying that they will time how long the fire engine takes to get there—and then criticising it. It ill becomes Members to draw attention to the shortcomings of other Members, but one speaker reminded me of those people in Spain who, on Good Friday, flagellate themselves up and down mountains trying to display their agonies. All the time, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) tries to show us that he is not enjoying this—he is in agony but that agony will not deter him, I fear, from voting against the amendments.
I hate to disagree with my hon. Friend but is not the difference between the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and the flagellants of Spain that they believe they have sins to expiate, whereas he believes that whatever position he adopts today, even if it is the opposite of yesterday’s, is entirely right and proper?
I yield to no one in my admiration for my hon. Friend and her knowledge of the slightly occult religious practices of south Spain—and possibly of parts of St Helens for all I know.
But we did not expect the Spanish inquisition. We expected a valid, proper, sensible voice to enable the people to engage with their national health service. The NHS must not be an isolated ivory tower dominated by the old consultant gods who used to run it. It must not be a matter of non-responsible bureaucrats in quangos sending letters of suggestion. The NHS must contain a proper mechanism for the people’s voice to be heard and, above all, for the involvement of the wider community. The NHS cannot be a stand-alone organisation; it has to be involved with local councils and local communities, but everything in the proposals for this mealy-mouthed, milquetoast healthwatch nonsense dilutes and destroys that.
All the proposal does is create a false illusion—a falsity; the suggestion that somehow the voice of the people will be heard through this mere sub-committee of the Care Quality Commission, a committee whose mighty weapons arrayed against the forces of reaction and conservatism consist of the ability to write a letter. Such a letter would have to be vast, powerful and extremely effective, and would have to do what no letter has ever done in the history of epistolatory warfare. It would somehow have to persuade people on this gentle nudge—I appreciate that there are those on the Government Benches much given to the modern, modish philosophy of the nudge, but there is nudging and there is fudging, and what we have heard tonight is a fudge-nudge.
Above all, however, there is a crucially significant and important point here.
I am not entirely sure, Mr Speaker, whether you would allow the debate to go down that line, but were anyone in Northern Ireland to suggest a model such as that being proposed tonight, they would get a very dusty answer—it might not be replied to with sword or pen alone, but it would certainly be responded to.
The NHS is not something that we choose to buy into or out of. It is something that we all subscribe to. For many people—I should think everyone in this Chamber except me—it is a part of their birthright. People have been born under the NHS, have lived with the NHS, have funded the NHS and have supported it, and their voices must be heard. What we have tonight does not represent a valid mechanism for people to engage with the NHS. That is the key point. It is simply not good enough to set up a sub-committee of a quango and imagine that it has any force. We must realise that, yes, people may have different political opinions and there might be different priorities, but we do not have differential rates of national insurance. We pay national insurance because it is our national health service, and we have a right to have our voices heard.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that such a complex measure is before the House? The Government’s thinking was not developed in the early stages, and the Conservatives’ coalition partners have contributed nothing throughout our scrutiny in Committee. That is why, at this late stage, the Opposition are still left trying to amend and improve the Bill.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important point. In responding to it, I would like to ask the House to cast its mind back to the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). He rightly said that this is not an issue of party politics. The fact that we see party politics in its worst form—its most loathsome shape—forming before our very eyes, clouded in some foul, mephitic, stygian Hades, is to be deplored. We should all listen to my right hon. Friend and actually try to admit to ourselves that we do not know everything—that the people’s voice does deserve to be heard and that the national health service is just that: a national health service, for all people. Everybody has that right to have their voice heard.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the deepest problems with this Bill is that the people’s voice has not been heard? These proposals were never put before the people in party manifestos. That is exactly why they feel so very angry.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. It is a great sadness and reflects ill on my personal life that I spend many a night browsing through Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos. I have searched; I have examined; I have deconstructed; I have applied the principles of Jacques Derrida to those manifestos. Have I found in there any smidgen, any suggestion, any hint or any implication that the NHS was to be fragmented, privatised and ultimately destroyed, and the connection between the people and the NHS to be ripped up, torn into shreds like the integrity of the Liberal Democrats, hurled from the window to flutter in the breeze of history, never, ever to be seen again? Had I found that, I would almost certainly have voted Labour—but as I did so anyway, that is neither here nor there. But the point that my hon. Friend makes is absolutely right. How can the people, who fund the NHS, who are born in the NHS, who live in the NHS and who will ultimately quit this mortal bourn in the NHS—when they depart this vale of tears, it will be with the comforting arm of the NHS about their shoulders—feel that they are best served by this organisation if their voice is not heard?
If it is difficult for those people to imagine how they can rely on the NHS, surely they should take a lead from the Lib Dems at their spring conference and show Liberal Democrat Members that they need to listen to their members and vote with us this evening.
My hon. Friend tempts me down a partisan path. I hope she will forgive me if on this occasion I will not follow so closely behind her. All I will say is that Gateshead—that wonderful, glorious city—has been demeaned by the presence of those who spin endlessly before our eyes, desperately trying to justify their own appalling behaviour.
What we have this evening is a Bill that is inchoate in its extremities. There are so many different clauses. I challenge any individual to respond to a question on the total number of amendments that we have had to face before tonight. But above all, leaving aside all the numbers, the clauses, the subsections, there is at the heart of all this one basic irrefragable—
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No.83F(2)), That this House agrees with Lords amendment 11.
Question agreed to.
Lords amendment 11 accordingly agreed to
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith with Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour (Standing Order No. 83F)
Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendments 12, 43 to 53, 61, 62, 168 to 241, 243 to 245, 247, 249 to 251, 253 to 286, 288 to 291, 327, 333, 334 and 366 to 374.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 181, 189, 192, 198, 243, 244, 253, 265, 288, 290, 291 and 366.